Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: May 29th, 1992 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Emile Ardolino Actors: Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, Mary Wickes, Harvey Keitel, Bill Nunn, Richard Portnow, Ellen Albertini Dow
ven as a young child at Saint Anne’s Academy in 1968, Deloris Wilson (Whoopi Goldberg) was rebellious and incorrigible. As an adult, she works as a lounge singer at a seedy casino in Reno, where she tires of the uncommitted attentions of gangster Vince LaRocca (Harvey Keitel), who perpetually delays divorcing his wife to be with Deloris exclusively. Fed up with the routine, she plans to quit her trio and head out of town – until she accidentally walks in on Vince as he orders the execution of one of his men who snitched to the police.
Forced to hastily flee in a taxi as goons chase her with guns, Deloris (now using the surname Van Cartier) goes to the police to turn state’s witness against her criminal underground boyfriend. The problem is, it will take about two months to set up a court date – and Vince has put out a $100,000 hit against her. To protect her in the interim, cocky Lieutenant Souther (Bill Nunn) hides her away in Saint Catherine’s convent in California amongst the nuns (the last place Vince would ever look), where she adopts the title Sister Mary Clarence and is expected to conform to the austere ways of the spiritual institution.
Essentially reworking the basic plot of “Some Like It Hot,” “Sister Act” finds humor in culture clashes and opposition against conformity as Mary struggles with a newfound lack of material possessions, unfamiliar obedience, and uncomfortable chastity. Her characteristics of obstinance and pessimism contrast quite cinematically with the simple, seemingly unadventurous lives of nuns. The strict but wise Reverend Mother (Maggie Smith) becomes a temporary nemesis (and even sympathetic, in time), while fellow nuns are radically, insubordinately influenced by Mary’s bad examples.
Strangely, Goldberg seems more at home in her penguin-like habit than as a mouthy showgirl. She’s also aware of the goofy premise, refusing to take her situation with any seriousness, even though the rest of the cast (save for the comic relief sisters) attempts a level of sincerity. Still, since the purpose is to craft a feel-good, encouraging picture of redemption (unsubtly immersed in actual religious visuals), the darker components are appropriately tabled. Recognizing Whoopi’s talents, the film also prudently sets aside a major portion of running time to focus on singing and dancing and lively music as Clarence takes over the choir, pumps it up a few notches, and infuses some boogie-woogie rhythm and soul (turning the hymnal soundtrack into an upbeat, rockin’ occasion). And, fortunately, the amusing misadventures trump any preachy, theological notions, allowing for camaraderie, humorous devotional manipulation, and an over-the-top climactic rescue to resonate beyond the limited premise.
– Mike Massie