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‘A Bad Moms Christmas’ tastes like a stale chestnut

In that old Christmas stalwart “Love Actually,” the wonderful Bill Nighy plays an aging rock star angling for an easy payday by cynically subbing the word “Christmas” into one of his hits, and re-recording it. And now we have “A Bad Moms Christmas.” Need we say more? Not really, but that would ignore the contributions of several gifted actresses in what otherwise feels like a stale old chestnut.

These three talented women do not play the moms of the title, but the moms of the moms, and they have a boatload of statuettes among them – if not an EGOT (probably no Grammy, alas) then an EOT or something. They are Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, and the divine Christine Baranski, and they make this movie worth watching, even when the dialogue is utterly cringe-worthy. And oh, it is. “Oh my (expletive) God” it is, to quote a sweet, dirty-mouthed child in the film.

By the way: has anyone noticed that we have a Christmas movie in theaters while the leftover Halloween candy is still perfectly fresh? What’ll we get in December, “A Bad Moms Easter Parade”? But we digress. “Bad Moms Christmas,” written and directed by the original team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, has bigger problems. In last year’s original, a surprise hit, there was a relatable rallying cry – against the impossible image of perfect momhood. Now the rallying cry is “Take Back Christmas.” And the answer for our moms Amy, Kiki and Carla (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) seems to be: Get drunk at the mall, have what looks like a sexual encounter with a department store Santa, steal a tree, and go home. Voila. Christmas is back! Phew!

Sorely unfunny

We begin with Amy (Kunis), sitting in a dejected stupor after a Christmas party gone very, very wrong. Debris is everywhere, and even a camel wanders by, though we’re in suburban Chicago. “I ruined Christmas,” she says. “I feel like the worst mom in the world.” Flashback to five days earlier, and the early arrival of the bad grandmoms. Each has her own, shall we say, exaggerated quirk. For Kiki’s mom (Hines), it’s an extremely unhealthy attachment to her daughter (she wears sweaters emblazoned with pictures of her, for starters.) Carla’s mom (Sarandon) is a pot-smoking hipster in a black leather jacket (Sarandon could do this part with her eyes closed, and you wonder if perhaps she wanted to.)

Then there’s Amy’s mom Ruth (Baranski), a Palm Beach doyenne, who wears fur and spews gifts. “Have some iPhones,” she tells her grandkids. “Have some Xboxes.” It’s Ruth – “like Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” she explains – who creates the central drama, with her insistence that Christmas be perfect. “Amy this is Christmas, it’s the BIG SHOW,” she says. As for Carla’s mom, Isis – “like the terror group,” she explains, in what will seem a sorely unfortunate joke to many – she’s in need of money, as usual. And she might just be taking advantage of Carla, a single mom who works giving waxes in a salon.

Feeling tense, the younger moms meet up at the mall, where they take out their frustrations on that poor Santa we mentioned. In a montage. This movie likes montages. There are lots. One takes place at a local Sky Zone trampoline park, in what seems like a very long bit of product placement. It’s all leading up to Christmas Eve, and the showdown between Amy and her mother that we know is coming. Along the way, we’ll meet a few appealing characters in cameos. The best is Justin Hartley (“This Is Us”), doing what he can with a pretty gross scene in the waxing salon. And he rocks the closing credits.
But it’s Baranski who steals the show. Watch her apologize, painfully: “For the tiny fraction of blame that falls on me, I am sorry.” Don’t blame her – or any of the actors – for the lame script. It’s not even a tiny fraction their fault. “A Bad Moms Christmas,” a STX Films release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use.” Running time: 104 minutes. One and a half star out of four. – AP

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