Goldberg plays Deloris, a Reno lounge singer who witnesses a murder by her mobster boyfriend Vince (Harvey Keitel) and ends up on the lam. The detective trying to bust Vince, played by Bill Nunn, pops Deloris into a San Francisco convent for safekeeping, where the one-time Catholic school girl promptly outrages the mother superior (Maggie Smith).
Deloris and the movie find their respective callings about halfway in when she’s asked to take over the convent’s dreadful choir, introducing ’60s rock to the nuns through adapted renditions of “My Guy” (becoming “My God”) and songs like “I Will Follow Him,” which takes on a new and hilarious meaning.
It’s a divine concept, and after a weak start director Emile Ardolino (“Dirty Dancing,””Three Men and a Little Lady”) milks it for all the laughs it’s worth, while deriving requisite warmth from solid performances by Goldberg and Smith.
The comic element gets a major boost, meanwhile, from supporting players, particularly Kathy Najimy’s ebullient Sister Mary Patrick and dour Mary Wickes as the former choir-master.
Ardolino does fall into certain traps of the genre, among them the annoying habit of telling big chunks of story through long musical montages, and Keitel and his henchmen are too cartoonish to be truly menacing.
In a more provocative sense, the film touches on but basically steers away from addressing how the Church can be more relevant in modern society, as well as its inner conflict over adapting to face current realities–a point made subtly by Deloris’ grappling with the mother superior over styles of music.
Still, few summer filmgoers will be bothered by those flat notes, and as a “PG”-rated comedy Goldberg’s cleaned-up act should pick up additional coin as one to which parents can bring their kids.
Technical credits are highlighted by Lester Wilson’s staging on the numbers and Marc Shaiman’s clever musical adaptations. Producer designer Jackson DeGovia also does a fine job of turning the dreary church into a glitzy main room as the chorus starts filling up benches.
“Sister Act” may be a benchmark for Goldberg, as well, and for other summer comedies, a tough act to follow.