Two comic sequels offer little that's new

December 10, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

There's a famous New Yorker cartoon where a prosperous businessman lies on his deathbed and his last words to his wife are, "Martha, whatever you do . . . don't sell Xerox." That's pretty much the aesthetic of two lame sequels that both arrive today: "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" and "Wayne's World 2." Whatever they do ---- and it isn't much -- they don't sell Xerox.

In other words, each clings desperately to the franchise and offers the minimal pleasure of the premise. Each, diluted and dim, nevertheless somehow pays off.

Of the two, "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" is most likely to be confused with an actual movie. At least it has what might charitably be called a story, which it takes through what might, again charitably, be called rising action, climax and even denouement.

The irascible, ineffable, unstoppable, unsinkable Whoopi Goldberg repeats as Deloris Van Cartier, Vegas lounge singer with a flair for things devine. When Mother Superior -- the great Maggie Smith, slumming -- recalls her to a parochial school to assist with a failing music class, Deloris inexplicably agrees to get "back in the habit," to quote the really funny and clever pun that is the subtitle.

This setup is not only slow to arrive but achingly fake, as is the class of movie-style delinquents for which she's suddenly responsible. Where are we, in "Fame"? Movie-cute, movie-trite dysfunctional teen-agers cavort in movie-phony ways that were dated in the '60s, when poor Sidney Poitier pulled the same duty in "To Sir With Love." Where's Lulu, I kept wondering.

Worse, the comically agreeable duet of nuns -- Kathy Najimy and Wendy Makkena --are completely exiled to the sidelines, largely squandering their high entertainment value.

But the franchise remains intact: This is the music, or more precisely, the motif that Sister Mary Clarence can take a mob of losers and whip them into a professional group in about 30 minutes of screen time. There's even a big "State Music Championship" at the end! Couldn't, wouldn't, never did and never will happen, anywhere on Earth or any other planet, except maybe in Solar System No. 2,454,356G, out beyond Sirius. But so what?

"Sister Act 2" delivers at least four drop-dead, foot-tapping, tub-thumping musical numbers that are the sole reason for its existence. The true star of the film is music supervisor Marc Shaiman, who performed the same magic in the original; it isn't great but it's efficient.

As for "Wayne's World 2," the only honest description of the film would be: "It's about Michael Myers and Dana Carvey making a sequel for a whole lot of money." End of plot summary.

The setup is even more inane than in "Sister Act 2": One night dweebie Wayne (Myers) has a dream in which Jim Morrison (Michael Nickles) of The Doors tells him to put on a concert in Aurora, Ill. So he and Barf -- I mean Garth! -- set about to do just that. On this slender reed is the movie launched, and the movie turns out to be even more slender than the reed.

It sort of free-associates itself through 90 minutes, struggling wheezily after laughs while only marginally paying attention to its own story line. It will do anything, but the most common is the movie parody, which it doesn't do as well as the "Naked Gun" films. Among the targets: psycho woman-killer movies (Kim Basinger makes an appearance that got my attention); "The Graduate," of which most of the target audience has never heard; and of course Oliver Stone's "The Doors."

In other parts of the movie, a surprisingly restrained Christopher Walken tries to take Wayne's girlfriend Cassandra (Tia Carrere) from him (boring), a celebrity roadie tells the same boring story over and over (boring), Charlton Heston makes a guest appearance (surprisingly amusing), and there's even room for Rip Taylor's hairpiece (really boring).

But again: the franchise. This is the highly supple and vividly symbolic language by which Wayne and Garth semi-communicate. It is their only charm, their only trick, a glottal matrix of pauses, grunts, exquisitely arch facial expressions and resonant but unidentifiable noises. It's language as primal therapy, utterly beyond the reach of science or literature. How would you write the strange belch of contempt that Wayne deploys about every six seconds: "Chua?"

The true attraction of the film is Wayne and Garth grooving on being Wayne and Garth. The movie parties on.

"Wayne's World 2"

Starring Michael Myers and Dana Carvey.

Directed by Stephen Surjik.

Released by Paramount.

Rated PG-13.

** 1/2

"Sister Act 2:

Back in the Habit"

Starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Directed by Bill Duke.

Released by Touchstone.

Rated PG.

** 1/2

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