Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are an unbeatable comedy team. That doesn't make them infallible.
Their second screen pairing, Sisters, is too much of a good thing, a flimsy premise with an implosion countdown of maybe 85 minutes, stretched a half-hour beyond that. Not like Judd Apatow's rambling improv but by continuing to cram in our faces jokes that aren't working.
Start with the casting of Fey and Poehler switching types. This time Poehler is the uptight, awkward one, someone resembling her Parks and Recreation role. That corner is usually reserved for Fey, as in their previous comedy Baby Mama, while Poehler plays loose cannon. Fey can play loose popgun, not this brassy extrovert.
Fey plays Kate Ellis, still in a hoochie mama high school state of mind and body. Kate is a single mom out of touch with her daughter (Madison Davenport), unable to keep a nail salon job and broke. Her bailout parents (James Brolin, Dianne Wiest) are fed up, ready to sell their Orlando home and move to a seniors community.
Poehler plays good daughter Maura, caring and generous to annoying faults. Divorced and hating it, Maura is a glass-half-full person who'll worry about what's in the glass. She needs to loosen up, and Kate is an expert. Going home to clean out their shared bedroom is their chance.
Kate and Maura decide to throw one last party like the old days, gathering old classmates, a Korean manicure squad, Bobby Moynihan intentionally annoying, lesbian stereotypes (including SNL's Kate McKinnon), and John Cena as a hulking drug dealer named Pazuzu. Maya Rudolph crashes the party. Cena is the only one not under the false impression that louder is funnier.
Most of the gags are too raunchy to repeat, and repeated so often that snickers become sighs. Even Maura's nicely developing romance with a neighbor (Ike Barinholtz) goes there, way up there. Director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) and screenwriter Paula Pell throw jokes in a bucket and splash them on the wall to see what sticks. Not much.
Fey and Poehler remain game throughout, mustering a bit of besties magic here and there. Sisters flips a tested formula to become the New Coke of comedy, looking familiar and bubbly on the surface, disposable before it's finished.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.