Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love Amy Poehler and Tina Fey? When together they make for arguably Hollywood’s best comedic duo. They’re so good they make awards shows watchable. The ex-Weekend Update pair reunites with “SNL” writer Paula Pell for “Sisters”, but whatever magic the trio had hasn’t translated to the big screen. In fact, this tired, low-brow party comedy should be enough to force them to stick to TV for the foreseeable future.
Directed by “Pitch Perfect”‘s Jason Moore, “Sisters” finds Poehler and Fey sledding uphill against an onslaught of tasteless and unfunny jokes about poop. Well, that’s not totally true; there’s also foreign objects being crammed up a partygoer’s anus and an awkward dance number, the latter sure to please fans of the talented ladies. It’s not Fey and Poehler who screw this film up; it’s the lazy screenplay and low energy that proves the ultimate party foul.
Siblings Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler) couldn’t be more different if they tried. Kate’s a bit rough around the edges, a sexual firecracker with a childish streak that drives her daughter into hiding. Maura is a total square, at least socially, but she opens up when in the company of her sibling. One thing they have in common is love for their childhood home, but when informed by their frisky parents (“Life in Pieces”‘ Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) that the home is to be sold the girls rebel in the only way they know how: throwing one last bash.
Given Pell’s track record “Sisters”‘ episodic nature and sitcom style isn’t surprising. It proves fitting for the stars of such smart female-centric comedies “Parks & Recreation” and “30 Rock”. But the material isn’t nearly of that caliber, and often includes long, painful sequences around a single joke stretched razor thin. In one such scene you’ll be dying to fast forward through, Maura struggles to pronounce the rather simple name of her Korean manicurist, Hae-Won (Greta Lee). This isn’t one of those times where a joke starts off terrible but goes on long enough it eventually becomes funny. It’s pretty much DOA on arrival and stays that way.
Of course the party is the main centerpiece and it’s populated with a number of wacky characters, most played by former SNL alums. Maya Rudolph is sorely wasted as a longtime frenemy who can’t dance; Rachel Dratch also appears, Kate McKinnon is hard-partying lesbian, and Bobby Moynihan plays a coked-up loser who doesn’t know how to make friends. In one of the better turns, John Leguizamo is a former high school hunk-turned burnout who longs to get both sisters in the sack. And continuing his streak of strong supporting work, WWE superstar John Cena scores many of the film’s biggest laughs as a lunk-headed, tattooed drug dealer Kate takes a liking to. His safe word is hilarious. Less useful is Ike Barinholtz, retrofitted into a love interest role that doesn’t suit him at all.
The problem is that these characters, and that includes Kate and Maura, are pretty thinly drawn, as if they were being written for a skit show. They’re only around to deliver the next raunchy joke and then vanish until it’s time for another one. The best scenes won’t be a shock to anybody; they involve Fey and Poehler riffing with one another, like in an early moment sharing nostalgic favorites from the 1980s. The chemistry they have together is remarkable, reminiscent of some of the best comedy duos of all-time. When the forced attempts at humor slow down, “Sisters” becomes worthy of its stars, but those times are too few and too far between.