It’s week two of blockbusters and their underperforming sequels on ‘Touchstone and Beyond.’ How do you know a film is an unexpected blockbuster? When a sequel is greenlit and released in theatres one year after the first film premiered. Expectations were high for this second go around of singing nuns, but Sister Act II: Back in the Habit would disappoint critics and box office receipts.
Deloris, played by Whoopi Goldberg, has survived her time in the convent and her psychotic boyfriend Vince. Now she is a worldwide sensation and headlining in Las Vegas. Deloris’ fame has also brought her friends from the convent back to ask for her help.
It seems that the nuns, Sisters Mary Patrick, played by Kathy Najimy, Mary Lazarus, played by Mary Wickes, and Mary Robert played by Wendy Makkena, are all teaching at a high school and need Deloris to help reach the students. Mother Superior, played by Maggie Smith, tells Deloris that they are in over their heads and need her help.
As fast as the neon lights of Vegas flicker, Deloris is back in San Francisco only this time she is about take over the role of music teacher at St. Francis Academy. The only catch is she must pretend to be Sister Mary Clarence, and fool Father Maurice, played by Barnard Hughes, the principal of the school and a nosy employee of the diocese Mr. Crisp, played by James Coburn.
Back in full habit attire, Deloris meets her class and finds it is filled with kids who feel music class is an easy course. While Deloris is trying to figure out how to deal with the students, one of her pupils, Rita Watson, played by Lauryn Hill, is a special case. Rita is one of the most talented singers in a class that is filled with skilled musicians. Deloris finds the answer to her problem with the class by forming a choir and Rita taking the lead. Since the kids need the class to graduate, Deloris forces them out of their comfort zones to sing.
While this transition in the classroom is happening, Mr. Crisp has convinced the diocese to close the school. The land the school sits on is more profitable as a parking lot reasons Crisp. The nuns also learn that the school use to compete at and win the state championship in choir singing. The nun’s figure if the school is going to close then they might as well go out with a bang, and Deloris leads the fundraising to take the kids to the competition. Though Rita is forced to drop the class by her mother, she forges her mom’s signature to take part in the state championships.
With everything hanging in the balance the team arrives backstage to compete for glory. The competition is fierce, but with Deloris’ direction, the choir shines on the stage. Problems are resolved and even Rita Watson’s mother, who attends the competition, changes her mind about Rita’s singing. Deloris has saved the day and St. Francis Academy is a better place because of it.
Whoopi Goldberg is perfect as Deloris. She is witty, compassionate, talented, and has just enough drive that helps bring out the best in other people. She owns this role and there is no one else that could play her on the big screen. Watching how Whoopi interacts with the kids in the class makes you feel like Whoopi is not just an actor playing a part, but a person who can deal with anyone. Whoopi’s Deloris is someone who cares for everyone and will even put her life on hold to help those who helped her.
Mary Wickes as Sister Mary Lazarus is a comedic talent that brings humor to the usually stiff and proper world of the Catholic Church. There are moments of laugh out loud hilarity thanks to Wickes’ timing and deadpan delivery.
This is the film that placed Lauryn Hill on the world stage. She plays the talented Rita Watson that is caught between her own dreams and what her mother wants her to do. Hill’s Watson is a character that anyone can empathize with, and without her standout singing, the choir would have certainly lost at the state championships.
Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, and Maggie Smith did not have enough of a role in the film. It felt like they were used infrequently, especially Smith, and they could have been put to better use as actual costars to propel the movie forward.
The brilliance of Sister Act was the choir of nuns and how they came together. Sister Act II almost throws away this joy with a token appearance of the nuns singing, and then forces Whoopi Goldberg into a formulaic outsider teacher helps a class of inner-city kids. The problem with using that formula is that the kids at St. Francis Academy are not tough as nails inner city kids. They all seem to come from good families, and they attend a well to do catholic private school academy. The kids in Deloris’ class are good kids and using the Dangerous Minds like story just doesn’t work here. Deloris has a room of talent that we never get to see until the end of the film. What a loss!
What particularly irks me is that for some reason, Deloris must pretend to be Sister Mary Clarence to fool the priests at the school. Every priest in the catholic faith would know who Deloris is, especially after the concert they gave for Pope John Paul II in the last film. I feel like this little plot device could have been handled in such a better way. There are a million ways to get Deloris back into the nun habit, the way the film chose just seems ridiculous.
I hope James Coburn got paid a lot of money. His Mr. Crisp is pointless and not needed.
- Whoopi Goldberg was reportedly paid $7 million dollars to reprise the role of Deloris.
- Jennifer Love Hewitt of Party of Five fame is one of the students in the class.
- Whoopi Goldberg’s daughter Alex plays one of the students in the class.
- Director Bill Duke has a cameo in the film who tells the one student ‘Stretch’ he should quit hanging out with the kids on the street and be inside working.
- Mary Wickes who plays Sister Mary Lazarus, passed away two years after Sister Act II was released.
- Disney announced in 2015 a reboot of Sister Act but no word on whether Whoopi Goldberg will be involved. There is some doubt if this next Sister Act will be a theatrical sequel or a Disney+ original.
- Whoopi Goldberg who originally expressed some doubt about coming back to the franchise, has changed her opinion and would be willing to return to the world of Deloris and the singing nuns.
See It/Skip It?
Skip It! While Sister Act II: Back in the Habit has many humorous moments, it just doesn’t have the joy and wonder of the first film. Part of what makes Sister Act so much fun is seeing Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the convent and her interaction with the nuns. How Deloris finds her place in the holy world and brightens the lives of the nuns is what makes the film so heartwarming and joyful. Sister Act II feels rushed. I feel like the focus was to capitalize on the momentum of the first film and little thought was put into how to execute this film. Much of what made the first film so special is either abandoned, or confined to small token appearances, like Maggie Smith’s Mother Superior.
The sequel just doesn’t live up to the first film. You can judge both films for yourself because they are both available on Disney+.
Next week, our sequels deep dive continues with a look at the 1980’s classic Three Men and a Baby.
Director: Bill Duke
Production Company: Touchstone Pictures
- Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris
- Maggie Smith as Mother Superior
- Kathy Najimy as Sister Mary Patrick
- Wendy Makkena as Sister Mary Robert
- Mary Wickes as Sister Mary Lazarus
- James Coburn as Mr. Crisp
- Lauryn Hill as Rita Watson
- Michael Jeter as Father Ignatius
- Barnard Hughes as Father Maurice
- Robert Pastorelli as Joey Bustamante
Release Date: December 10, 1993
Budget: $38 million
Box Office Gross Domestic = $57, 319, 029