Sisters Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz. Directed by Jason Moore. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make a terrific comedy duo, which is both the primary strength and most significant weakness of the films they’ve starred in together. On the one hand, the chemistry they first honed behind the desk of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update—with Fey’s sardonic wit bouncing off of Poehler’s irrepressible energy—translates quite well to the big screen. On the other hand, their joint hilarity tends to be taken for granted, which means nobody puts much work into crafting a script that’s funny independent of what they’ll bring to it. Like Baby Mama, Sisters (which was penned by longtime SNL writer Paula Pell) is little more than a thin scenario meant to function as a delivery system for semi-improvised riffing. Some jokes hit, others miss, but the movie as an actual movie feels almost irrelevant.
As the title suggests, Fey and Poehler play siblings this time, improbable though that may seem from a strictly genetic standpoint. Maura (Poehler) is the more responsible and sensible of the two, though she’s still reeling from a divorce two years ago. Kate (Fey), by contrast, lives strictly for the moment, which explains why she’s just been evicted from her apartment. When Kate heads to the family home in Orlando to regroup, she’s stunned to discover that Mom and Dad (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) have just sold it, and are moving into a retirement community. Asked to remove their old belongings, Kate and Maura rebel by throwing a ludicrously lavish house party, during which Maura attempts to make up for lost time by “going wild” and Kate struggles to belatedly learn how to be a fully functioning adult.
This hackneyed opposites-meet-in-the-middle narrative plays like a contractually obligated afterthought, which is probably just as well. Sisters exists primarily as an excuse for its extended house-party set piece, which allows Fey and Poehler to share the spotlight with various past and present SNL cast members, including Maya Rudolph (in spectacularly snooty mode), Bobby Moynihan (overdoing his character’s coke-fueled mania), and Kate McKinnon (underutilized as half of a lesbian DJ team). Director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) does little more than point the camera at the actors, which only intensifies the feeling that you’re watching an unusually raunchy and foul-mouthed sketch-comedy bit.
The laughs are there, but given that Sisters runs nearly two hours, it’s disappointing that it aims no higher than a distaff version of the early Tom Hanks vehicle Bachelor Party. Fey and Poehler could be our Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, if only someone would write them an Odd Couple or Fortune Cookie. Right now, they’re settling for a contemporary equivalent of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movies.