Thirty years ago (more or less), Disney released a family friendly seasonal comedy that underperformed and was forgotten. Forgotten, except by every 8-year-old who watched Hocus Pocus then or would go on to rewatch it annually during spooky season.
The entertainment behemoth finally realized what it had and commissioned a sequel. Hocus Pocus 2 reunites willful witches Winnifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) with Salem, the town that hates them.
What is it that reawakens the evil Sanderson sisters? A somewhat convoluted storyline, actually, but it involves female empowerment and community and it’s charmingly, inoffensively told.
Halloween’s here, and with it, Becca’s (Whitney Peak) 16th birthday. She’ll celebrate this year as every year by sharing a little spookiness in the woods with her bestie, Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). It’ll be the first year that the third in their trio, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), doesn’t join because she’s hanging out with her boyfriend. Meh!
Anyhoo, the Sandersons are accidentally conjured. Somehow the local crystals and essential oils purveyor (Sam Richardson, likable as ever) is mixed up in things. And Cassie’s dad – kindly Mayor Traske (Tony Hale) – is in mortal danger!
Director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal) hits enough nostalgic notes that adult fans of the original will feel seen. Its contemporary story allows for brand new witch-out-of-water scenarios to explore, and, of course, the sisters are always up for a musical number. But this is definitely a kids’ film.
The original was a kind of sibling to Fred Dekker and Shane Black’s 1987 family film Monster Squad. Both showed poorly at the box office and went on to become beloved seasonal fixtures. Hocus Pocus brought the sensibilities into the nineties by, for one thing, recognizing that boys can also be virgins. HP2 modernizes further.
To begin with, not every citizen of Salem is white. And though it’s impossible to entirely redeem three characters looking to eat children, at least the sequel skims the ideas of systemic misogyny. But mainly it offers campy, scrappy, bland but amiable fun.
Midler, Najimy and Parker reinhabit the old trio well enough to remind us why so many kids loved the original. Whether HP2 can strike the same chord with today’s youth is tough to tell, but at least there’s a Halloween flick everyone can watch together.
Remember Election – Alexander Payne’s 1999 movie about high school student body electoral process? Reese Witherspoon was funny. She was also truly funny in Legally Blonde, a film that had no business working at all and yet did, miraculously, because of Witherspoon.
While Sofia Vergara isn’t quite as proven on the big screen, four Emmy nominations suggest she has some comic talent as well. So, if we can’t blame them, why in the world is Hot Pursuit so, so awful?
Better yet, why in the hell did they sign up to do it?
Witherspoon plays Cooper, an uptight cop assigned to transport duty. She needs to get a recently widowed drug lord’s wife to Dallas to testify against her late husband’s boss.
Things go terribly wrong, obviously, and soon Hot Pursuit clarifies itself as a fish out of water buddy cop cliché of a road trip movie.
They have nothing in common, you see. Cooper’s uptight, small, intense, while Vergara’s Daniella is a steaming pile of racial stereotypes. Daniella has big boobs, but Cooper dresses like a boy. How can they ever make it to Dallas?
Anne Fletcher, who also helmed the abysmal road trip cliché The Guilt Trip, outdoes herself with this one. Not one joke lands, not one gag goes over, not a frame of the film feels anything other than stale and beneath the talent involved.
David Feeney and John Quaintance took a break from anemic TV sitcoms to pen this. Dan Fogelman wrote The Guilt Trip, which means that Fletcher intentionally chose two separate, awful road trip movies to bring to the screen. Why? Does she hate us?
Witherspoon and Vergara work hard to keep this thing afloat, and Witherspoon fares a little better because at least her character is not outright offensive. There’s almost chemistry between the two – something that might have translated into a fun onscreen bond if either one of them had a single funny line to deliver. Banter is really too much to hope for.