Momma Mia

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (PG-13)

Before seeing this sequel to the 2008 musical “Mamma Mia!” I dug up my review for the first one. It noted that the film was “an assault on the senses,” that Amanda Seyfried is “a bad little actress,” that Phyllida Lloyd is an “unimaginative director,” and that Pierce Brosnan “cannot sing.”

So, on to the sequel. It’s an assault on the senses, right from the big song and dance production of ABBA’s “When I Kissed the Teacher” and all the way through to the closing production of “Super Trouper.” Amanda Seyfried, again in the lead role of Sophie, has, beyond her big eyes, very little screen presence.

Writer-director Ol Parker at least knows where to place his cameras and how to spread out his one-liners best, but he’s saddled with some mundane and sometimes sloppy choreography from Anthony Van Laast. Pierce Brosnan has not taken any singing lessons, but thankfully his vocals are limited to just a couple of minutes.

Speaking of limiting things, a glance at any of the film’s posters shows a prominent placement of Meryl Streep, who previously starred as Donna, an American ex-pat on a small Greek island who slept around so much as a young woman, she’s not sure who out of three guys is her daughter’s father. No, this is not about moral judgments; it’s about false advertising. Meryl Streep is not a featured player in the sequel.

It’s made clear at the very start that Donna died a year earlier, and that she willed her little Greek hotel to her daughter Sophie. Aside from a couple of photos, Streep is not seen in the film until the 100-minute mark, as a spirit, singing “My Love, My Life.”

“Mamma Mia!” worked as a jukebox musical, a relatively recent phenomenon that strings together the hits of one group or artist, and fashions a loose story around those songs. The first film had almost two dozen ABBA songs acting as a Greek chorus (in Greece!) to tell the story of Donna trying to figure out, years after the fact, if Sophie’s dad was Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), or Harry (Colin Firth).

The deal this time is that the film jumps back and forth in time, telling in the present of how Sophie is reopening the hotel, and in the past of how young Donna (Lily James) came to live in Greece and how she came across those three young guys (Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner) for various flings.

Credit again goes to Ol Parker for keeping the back and forth transitions smooth, and for infusing them with some inventive edits. Cheers to Lily James for lighting up the film every time she’s on camera. She’s an absolute dynamo who emits an exuberance that’s at just the right level of happiness, even when the enthusiasm of other actors around her veer into overdrive.

But that’s about as much praise as can be spent on this silly sequel. Some mentions of Sophie’s grandmother, who “hasn’t been seen outside of Las Vegas for decades,” results in an unnecessary appearance by Cher, but not untill the 85-minute mark. Her performance of “Fernando,” dueting with the also unnecessary character of the new hotel’s manager (Andy Garcia) has a promising start but falls flat. Of course, it’s the songs that make these two movies spin along. While “Fernando” and “Super Trouper,” along with other titles including “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” get choice spots, the soundtrack is also loaded up with “lesser” ABBA tunes. Sorry, but this ABBA fan has never heard of “Why Did It Have to Be Me?” or “Angel Eyes.”

The casting of the younger actors taking on the parts of the older ones works well, and there’s the nice touch of the past story mirroring the current one. We get funny dialogue delivered with good timing, and the costume design ranges, as it should in anything ABBA-related, from dazzling to silly. Beyond that, anyone expecting anything more than pure fluff from this film is going to be disappointed.