Hocus Pocus 2 is every bit as awful as the original. I still remember the day in 1993 that I saw the first one. It was a special sneak preview showing, and if you came to see the movie, you got to stick around for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs afterward. I was so glad Snow White was there to wash the sour taste out of my mouth. Hocus Pocus was dumb, painfully unfunny, and in possession of a trio of embarrassingly broad performances from Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Nevertheless, a generation of kids grew up loving the picture, leading it to become a cult favorite. And that's fine. Like what you like! I just wish the makers of the sequel had bothered to fix anything.
The story once again takes place in Salem, Massachusetts (although if you look closely, you'll see it's actually the Stars Hollow set from Gilmore Girls). Teens Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) are obsessed with witchcraft and magic, often spending their days in the local occult shop run by Gilbert (Sam Richardson). The “hows” are boring and don't matter, but the Sanderson sisters – Winifred (Midler), Mary (Najimy), and Sarah (Parker) – are brought back from oblivion. They begin terrorizing the town, specifically targeting the mayor (Tony Hale), who is a descendant of their sworn enemy from centuries before.
You know you're in for hardcore stupidity when the first thing the Sandersons do is break into their own rendition of Elton John's “The Bitch Is Back,” changing the words to “the witches are back.” At the end of the original, they were all turned to dust, and we're supposed to believe their immediate reaction to reincarnation is to sing and dance? The sisters sure do like to sing. Later in the picture, they belt out Blondie's “One Way or Another.” That's just the start of the madness. There's a long sequence that finds the witches befuddled by a Walgreen's. When they can only find one broom to ride, Sarah hops on a Swiffer WetJet, and Mary straps two Roombas to her feet. Don't even get me started on the scene where they can't make heads or tails of an Alexa. From one end to the other, Hocus Pocus 2 revels in the lamest, least inspired jokes imaginable. Perhaps the filmmakers figured it would cover up an empty story that makes little sense.
That brings us back to the performances. Actually, I'm using the term “performances” loosely, because that word implies an attempt to convey something of substance through the craft of acting. The trio of stars don't do that, they simply mug at the camera, and they do it incessantly. Mugging isn't funny, it's desperate. Najimy is the worst offender, speaking out of the side of her mouth as though Mary is suffering from a stroke. (I know that isn't her intention, but that's how it plays.) No effort is made to give the Sanderson sisters actual personality or charisma. The actresses rely on making faces and jumping around. The best scenes are the ones they aren't in. Those are merely bland. When the witches come onscreen, the comedy turns painful.
The story builds to a climax that has clearly, distractingly been filmed against a green screen, giving it that fakey look. At this point, a halfhearted attempt at pathos is made. It doesn't deliver, since the plot has not laid the groundwork. The whole thread with the mayor falls apart too. He seems like a fairly decent guy overall, so you don't get any suspense from seeing the Sandersons go after him. Maybe the intent is to show that they're bullies. If so, that's boring.
What did people love about the original? I could not tell you. Maybe it's the lack of discernment in children. We all like our share of crap as kids. The surprising thing is that nostalgia has kept Hocus Pocus thriving for nearly three decades. But hey, who am I to judge? I'm the guy who thinks Nothing But Trouble is a good movie. I certainly don't begrudge people of their cinematic pleasures. None of this changes the fact that Hocus Pocus 2 is terrible. Perhaps it needs to be. In sticking with the tone of the original, what other choice does it have? Fans may find this sequel perfectly acceptable. You'd think, however, that the people who made it would want to do better than the first one, not strive to match its insipidness.
out of four
Hocus Pocus 2 is rated PG for action, macabre/suggestive humor, and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.