“Mamma Mia!” is an inert underachiever of a movie. Yes, it stinks, but not in the big, sprawling, shock-the-senses catastrophe way that can inspire perverse respect from those who enjoy so-bad-they’re-good flicks. Instead, “Mamma Mia!” is a dinky, dreary lump that is too lazy to offend the intellect and too uninspired to cause even a cackle of audience derision.
Set on a Greek isle that appears to be populated solely by twentysomething hardbodies and lumpy septugenarians, “Mamma Mia!” pretty much rips off the plot of the 1969 Gina Lollobrigida movie “Buono Sera, Mrs. Campbell” by offering an inane tale of an independent unmarried woman whose come-of-age daughter’s paternity could belong to one of three men. But rather than have a star of the drop dead gorgeous magnitude of Gina Lollobrigida at its center, “Mamma Mia!” instead brings in Meryl Streep, looking a decade older than her 59 years. Backed up by a pair of not-young pals with whom she once formed a pop trio (chronic camera hog Christine Baranski and gnomish Julie Walters), Streep’s character needs to juggle the unexpected arrival of three former lovers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard ) while trying to make sense of the rocky engagement between her exasperating daughter (Amanda Seyfried) and a local pretty boy with an inexplicable British accent (Dominic Cooper).
Admittedly, it is a dum-dum story. But, okay, no one ever focuses on musicals for their plots – the song and dance numbers are the selling points. Well, forget about the dancing. In “Mamma Mia!”, the characters are either bouncing about like deranged kangaroos or running feverishly while flapping their arms, as if they were trying to gain flight.
And as for the songs? Yes, the ABBA music is the backbone of the production. Of course, in the ideal world, it would make sense to hire performers who can actually sing – or at least do a passable rendition of 1970s Europop without sounding like inebriated suburbanites having too much fun at the karaoke machine. But for no clear reason, the film has been cast with actors who either steamroll the songs with off-key bellowing or try to oomph up the proceedings with manic mugging that makes Jim Carrey look like an introspective Zen master in comparison.
Director Phyllida Lloyd never bothers to hit the gas pedal with the film. As a result, “Mamma Mia!” lumbers along from one malformed ABBA number to the next, and the lethargy ultimately becomes so tedious that it is impossible to watch the film without making repeated glances at your wristwatch. The film runs less than two hours, but at times it feels like it has been running for two days. Actually, change that: it feels like it has been limping for two days.