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film review

Kathryn Hahn, Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell in A Bad Moms Christmas.Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

At the heart of the Bad Moms concept lies a truthful social observation: that contemporary mothers are overburdened with domestic expectations. And so, a mere 15 months after the Bad Moms trio hit the schoolyard with their raunchy jokes and screwball antics, A Bad Moms Christmas reaches for franchise territory simply by replacing the PTA with the Christmas holidays and the judgmental supermoms with … well, more judgmental supermoms. There are sequels and then there are merely reprises.

This time, Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) are bemoaning the pressure to produce a perfect Christmas when all three of their own mothers descend either early or unannounced. Apparently, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, working the distaff side of their Hangover sensibility once again, have no better idea for a plot than a visit from grandma, so they simply repeat it three times.

Of their three original characters, only Hahn's earthy Carla seems to have much comic juice left in her: As the exasperated Amy, Kunis is mainly bland and, in the role of Kiki, Bell's exhausted stay-at-home ditz seems less tired, less dumb and less funny. Still, Bell does provide a worthy straight woman for Cheryl Hines as Kiki's mother, playing a clingy widow who insists her adult daughter is her best friend. They have a particularly amusing session with a straight-shooting therapist courtesy of Wanda Sykes.

Yes, it's up to the older generation to provide the comedy here, and they do it fairly consistently, with the delicious Christine Baranski carrying most of the movie as Amy's mom, a bossy perfectionist and social climber who redecorates her daughter's house for the holidays and invites 184 people for cocktails. Susan Sarandon, meanwhile, offers an imitation, albeit rather pale, of her most famous role, that old trickster Louise, as she plays Carla's party-girl mother, a dope-smoking itinerant who can't remember whether it's Christmas or Easter.

Not to be outdone in the footloose-and-fancy-free department, Carla falls for an erotic dancer (Justin Hartley) when she waxes his private parts at the spa where she works. Their encounter is delivered with a kind of deadpan wink-wink that is initially very funny, but Hartley's character grows less amusing as he is called on to perform not one but two bump-and-grind numbers.

So, this story of mismatched meddling moms and their put-upon daughters trundles along happily enough if you like jokes about sexy Santas and pubic hair and don't ask too many questions about malls that serve beer in the food court or trampoline parks that hire new staff in the small hours of Christmas morning. With the exception of Carla, a reluctant aesthetician, and her mother, who seems to steal for a living, nobody here ever works, yet they all – again with the exception of the merely comfortable Carla – live like millionaires.

As a satire of consumer capitalism, A Bad Moms Christmas never manages to lay down any reliable alternative before it hurriedly ends with a trite little message about family. Her mother's outlandish silver-and-blue decorating scheme may be silly, but when the supposedly sympathetic Amy replaces it with her homey green-and-red version, the only discernible difference is the colour. As it critiques seasonal surfeit, A Bad Moms Christmas certainly can't escape Hollywood's familiar fallacy that if one is good, two must be better.

A Bad Moms Christmas opens Nov. 1.

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