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Movie review: Great cast can’t save ‘Sisters’

Tina Fey, left, as Kate Ellis and Amy Poehler as Maura Ellis, in a scene from "Sisters," directed by Jason Moore. (K. Bailey / Universal Pictures)
Tina Fey, left, as Kate Ellis and Amy Poehler as Maura Ellis, in a scene from "Sisters," directed by Jason Moore. (K. Bailey / Universal Pictures)
Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

A lot of very talented and likable people came together to make “Sisters.” Stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are much beloved for their iconic TV characters, longtime “Saturday Night Live” writer Paula Pell contributes the screenplay, and “Pitch Perfect” director Jason Moore takes on helming duties. It’s a shame then, that with all these fine creators, this scattershot comedy just doesn’t gel in the way it should.

One of the main problems with “Sisters” is that stars Fey and Poehler, while clearly having fun together, are not on the same page in terms of their performance choices. Poehler is heartfelt and realistic as overly caring and concerned nurse Maura, while Fey performs a sloppily conceived caricature of trainwreck cougar party girl/single mom Kate. Fey seems as if she’s in an “SNL” sketch, only halfway committed to the part, with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge air of irony, while Poehler seems like she’s actually in a movie.

The sisters are summoned back to their hometown of Orlando because their parents, played by Dianne Wiest and James Brolin, have sold their cherished family home and need their adult children to pack up their high school bedrooms, filled with ’80s detritus. Reluctant to let go of their old identities as high school party girls, and to stick it to the snobby new owners, the sisters decide to throw one last rager, for old time’s sake.

Toward the end of the party, their dad admonishes the group of assembled adults to “go home before I call your children,” and that wordplay seems to be the premise that launched the whole film – what happens when the middle-age crowd parties like they’re in high school? Well, things are very boring at first, until Kate gives a rousing motivational speech and rallies the troops with rounds of shots.

The party takes up much of the film’s duration, which at nearly two hours is far too long for a project this lightweight. The party is bloated with choreographed dances, druggy antics, and lots of high-fiving between Maura and Kate. The two sisters switch roles for the night – Kate takes on the role of “party mom” so Maura can seduce neighbor James (Ike Barinholtz). This results in the almost total destruction of the house.

There are some funny lines peppered throughout, and Poehler and Fey are entertaining when they’re riffing together (though many of the best moments appear in the trailer). There are plenty of great comedic actors, including Bobby Moynihan as a profoundly uncool friend who spirals into a hilariously manic drug haze.

Fey often tends towards a curiously urban characterization in her performance, which feels out of step with the rest of the film. Toward the end, her character comes together, but mostly, she’s putting on an affectation and half-heartedly tossing off lines.

“Sisters” just doesn’t cohere as a consistent piece. It doesn’t commit to one thing or another, so it’s an odd mash-up of middle-age lady humor and “Neighbors” style raging. It also overstays its welcome, stuffed with subplots and side characters. It doesn’t know where and when to end, so it just keeps ending. Unfortunately, “Sisters” just isn’t worthy of all the talent involved.

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