Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)


After the surprise box-office hit that was Sister Act, this sequel followed hot on its footsteps. The original director and writer didn’t return (Bill Duke, yeah the Bill Duke from Predator, directs this entry), but a group of three new writers produced this screenplay, which may account for why the film’s tone feels so different. After the events of the first film, Deloris (Whoopi Goldberg) has settled back into Las Vegas with a successful glitzy musical hits show. Sister Mary Patrick (Kathy Najimy), Sister Mary Lazarus, and Sister Mary Robert (Wendy Makkena) show up to one of Deloris’ shows and beg her to come help them teach music at their new posting positions as educators at St. Francis in San Francisco. The conflict is simple, can Sister Mary Clarence (Deloris) turn around some tough inner-city kids in music class using her Vegas showbiz and street smarts similar to how she turned around the choir in the first film? 

Like most “tough kid high school films” the students all look like young twenty-somethings, each has their own quirk they make immediately known, but are all just crying for someone to understand them and unlock their inner talents or some such thing. At the same time the school is struggling financially and without some kind of money miracle, this underperforming school is going to be shut down and turned into a…brace yourself…a parking lot (plus padding the wallet of one of the administrators played by James Coburn). If this entire endeavor sounds like a bunch of TV show writers took a couple off the shelf plots, added some sitcom level humor, mixed in “after school special” level of directing, then sprinkled in some musical numbers to turn it into a Sister Act sequel, well then you’d be right. Would you be surprised to learn that a hip choir act led by Deloris competing in the all-state competition (I want to make a Communitywe have to win regionals" joke so badly) is the one thing that the school needed to turn these going nowhere kids into respectable young adults and bring in the funds to save the school? 

My biggest critique with this concept in the sequel (and it applied to the original) isn't the unoriginal story and flat humor, it's the conflation of singing religious music well with singing religious music. For a film that uses a Catholic school and religious songs, there’s just zero talk or care about the actual content and intent of the music being sung about God, in praise of God, or anything about God at all actually. God is completely sidelined in a film that uses a church dedicated to him and music dedicated to him. The thing the film identifies as transforming of lives is not God, but just the act of singing. It's kinda offensive if you really give it thought. Still, it's a Hollywood comedy and I'm not really that surprised by this.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some good things going here: Goldberg continues to shine doing her best with the rote material, the off the shelf plot has some earnestness to it, and a couple of musical numbers are memorable and fun. The problem is that the first Sister Act was a fun original comedy film with a charismatic Whoopi Goldberg performance that so happened to feature a lot of enjoyable musical numbers. This second film is a generic tv special whose main saving grace are the few decent musical numbers. Thankfully, there’s a couple numbers that are worth a couple repeat views over the years. In particular, Lauren Hill in the final competition performance is just incredible.