Good moms go to heaven; Bad Moms get money — nearly $185 million at the box office, on a budget not much more than a tenth of that — and, apparently, a super fast-tracked sequel. But where to take the ladies who already went rogue on oblivious husbands, PTA Mussolinis, and paraben-free bake sales? The first film, released last July, paired its stars with their real-life mothers in the closing credits, a sweet postscript to a raucously uncouth comedy. Those cameos didn’t deliver much dramatic tension, though (or magically produce SAG cards), so Christmas recasts them: Now freshly-divorced Amy (Mila Kunis) is saddled with a Martha Stewart-level perfectionist (Christine Baranski) who treats the holidays like a holly-decked Hunger Games; mildly repressed Kiki (Kristen Bell) has her own pert maxi-me (Cheryl Hines); and wild card Carla reconnects with the spliff-smoking grifter (Susan Sarandon) who made her and then pretty much seemed to forget about her.
What follows is another slapstick dose of hard-R ridiculosity with a soft-nougat center, but it also passes the Bechdel test maybe better than any other film this year, and its older generation of stars are too smart not to go to town on their stock roles. Baranski’s preening matriarch is an imperious monster whose eyebrow tilts deserve their own EGOT; Hines’ stage-five clinger is fantastically deranged, a child-like widow who can’t understand why her daughter wouldn’t want to be her best friend, or have her face screen-printed on her own pajamas. And Sarandon rolls in in lipstick and leather like she never stopped shooting The Banger Sisters.
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Kunis and Bell don’t get to do much more than react; their straight-woman roles are blown back once again by Hahn, whose unhinged performance pretty much made the first movie. Her Carla is a walking ball of id in a crimped side-pony — a chronically unfiltered, sexually voracious salon waxer who meets her unlikely match in Ty Swindle (This Is Us’ Justin Hartley) a sweet-tempered fireman-slash-stripper built like a tripod with abs. (Original villain Christina Applegate only makes a brief cameo, but Wanda Sykes reprises her bit as the therapist who speaks strictly in profanity-laced truth serums; Jay Hernandez and Peter Gallagher fill out the decorative-male supporting roles).
Returning writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore aren’t reinventing comedy by any means; they’re mostly just adding candy canes and new chromosomes to their basic Hangover-franchise DNA. But they have found a smart formula, and women game enough to spin out their berserk storylines till Arbor Day.