Mother’s Day misses the mark

Just for the record, director Garry Marshall’s Mother’s Day is not a remake of the 1980 cult horror hit Mother’s Day (which was remade in 2010), but it’s frequently just as ghastly.

This is Marshall’s third such holidaythemed ensemble comedy, following Valentine’s Day (2010) and New Year’s Eve (2011), and it’s the worst of the bunch – although its predecessors were scarcely axioms of cinematic art.

The formula is basically the same, only the titular holiday has changed. Set in and around Atlanta, which the filmmakers showcase almost shamelessly (especially the Four Seasons Hotel), we’re introduced to a group of characters, some of whom are already acquainted and most of whom will be by the end. Marshall and Company do their utmost to milk laughs and wring tears in equal measure, although most of the time they only succeed in poking the gag reflex.

As the title implies, the story revolves around a group of mothers, many of whom are beset with insecurities and neuroses. Interestingly enough, however, most of them seem to have plenty of free time on their hands and none appears to be hurting financially. Just the opposite, in fact.

The menageries of moms includes Jennifer Aniston, whose ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant, in George Clooney mode) has married a much younger woman (Shay Mitchell). Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke play neighboring sisters, the former married to an Indian doctor (Aasif Mandvi) and the latter to her female partner (Carmen Esposito) – only they’ve never revealed as much to their estranged parents (Margo Martindale and Robert Pine), who decide to surprise them with a visit on Mother’s Day. Uh-oh!

Jason Sudeikis plays a widower with two daughters (Jessi Case and Ella Anderson, both appealing) enduring his first Mother’s Day since his wife (Jennifer Garner) was killed in action, and Julia Roberts – sporting a blaring red hairdo (or wig) – plays a Home Shopping Network diva unexpectedly reunited with the daughter (Britt Robertson) she gave up for adoption years ago – a daughter who has her own baby with bartender/wouldbe stand-up comedian boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall), who desperately wants to marry her.

If it sounds confusing, it really isn’t, although it’s certainly cluttered and predictable. With a running time of nearly two hours, scenes drag on endlessly until concluded with a punchline or quip (funny or not, here it comes). Since there’s so little tension or urgency – in this sort of film, everybody ends up happy (except, perhaps, the paying customer) – Mother’s Day all but squanders the attractive, talented cast on hand. No one embarrasses him- or her-self, although Martindale and Pine come awfully close.

In addition to appearances by Jon Lovitz, Larry Miller and Marshall regular Hector Elizondo (who’s appeared in all of his films), Roberts’ three children appear in a wedding scene, a number of small roles are played by actors with the surname Marshall, including Garry’s sister Penny, who provides strangely glum narration to introduce the proceedings.

The collective air of friendliness generated by the cast only goes so far, and in Mother’s Day it simply isn’t enough, and John Debney’s score (one of his worst) doesn’t help matters. This is a holiday to skip.