Making a sequel to one of the biggest sleeper hits of all time is a tall order, and scribe-star Nia Vardalos let 14 years pass before revisiting her breakout success with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” Whether or not audiences feel like it was worth the wait will depend heavily on how much they’re up for a family reunion: Literally the entire major cast returns in this simultaneously overstuffed and undernourished follow-up. Every bit as sitcom-ish and saccharine as its predecessor, but considerably less distinctive, “Wedding” redux will unquestionably fall short of the original’s massive $241 million domestic gross. But the curiosity of a presumably still-loyal fan base should at least allow for a respectable honeymoon period opposite “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” before this Universal release settles into its natural habitat as cable-TV filler.
Critics didn’t exactly flip for Vardalos’ feature length ethnic joke-cum-romantic comedy when it first opened, and no one predicted that it would garner phenomenal word-of-mouth B.O. success or multiple award nominations (including an Oscar nom for Vardalos’ original screenplay and a SAG ensemble nom for the cast). So all the critical carping in the world may not matter a damn where this follow-up is concerned, either. Still, it’s just about impossible to imagine lightning striking twice — especially since Vardalos seems to have used up all her best Greek-specific gags the first time around.
Family remains the driving force of the story: Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are dealing with their perpetually angry 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who feels like her parents are every bit as overbearing and embarrassing as Toula always found her own mom and dad. Cue Toula’s proud Greek immigrant father, Gus (Michael Constantine), coughing “payback” under his breath at the family restaurant.
Paris hopes to go to college as far away from the family’s home in Chicago as she can get (although she’s also considering Northwestern), and Toula’s realization that she may soon lose her baby girl isn’t sitting too well, even if it means an opportunity to rekindle the romantic spark with Ian that’s been all but snuffed out by the passage of time. If the first film’s arc was essentially “Toula learns to stop feeling smothered and love her family again,” the second film’s arc is essentially “Toula learns to stop smothering and love her family again.”
But the title mandates that there’s still some kind of wedding in the works, and Vardalos concocts a whopper of a justification for that: It turns out the marriage license of her parents, Gus and Maria (Lainie Kazan), was never signed by a priest before they left Greece for the U.S., meaning they’re not legally married (or something). Gus immediately wants to rectify the problem, but Maria seizes the unexpected opportunity to re-evaluate wedded life and consider her options.
The threat of Maria abandoning her marriage after 50 years is never very real (especially when, like everyone in the family, she’s unforgiving in her belief that all singletons should settle down), but it’s what passes for drama in Vardalos’ cluttered screenplay. Even when Paris takes it upon herself to ask the boy (Alex Wolff) she’s crushing on to go the the prom, one family member comes out of the closet and Gus’ long-lost brother (a solid yet underutilized Mark Margolis) arrives for the wedding, Vardalos seems pathologically afraid of introducing conflict — as if the mere suggestion that things might not work out would be too much for her core audience to handle.
More problematic is that the well seems to have run dry when it comes to Vardalos’ examination of Greek-American culture, however shallow it was to begin with. She wasn’t winning highbrow respect for her indulgence in romantic-comedy cliches and stereotypical first-generation immigrant family behavior the first time around, but there was a specificity to the reference points that added a modicum of flavor. This time it’s Gus who does most of the heavy lifting — still toting around his beloved Windex and claiming every word, invention and person has Greek roots — but aside from an obsession with using Web-based ancestry archives to prove he’s a direct descendant of Alexander the Great, there’s no fresh twist to the shtick.
Assuming the directing reins from Joel Zwick (who made two more features after “Wedding” and then returned to his sitcom roots), helmer Kirk Jones gives the film a pedestrian polish that falls more in line with his recent underwhelming output (“Everybody’s Fine,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) than his breakout crowdpleaser “Waking Ned Devine.” And the tech contributions, some of which come from returning artisans like production designer Gregory Keen, are nothing special.
Both Vardalos and Jones know that the magic, such as it is, comes from the cast, and if auds prove willing to give the limp dramatics and wan comedy a pass, it’ll be solely because they enjoy spending time with the characters. Now a clingy mom and burned-out wife back working in a family’s restaurant, Toula is a less sympathetic figure than she was before, and Vardalos feels a bit rusty when it comes to physical and verbal humor. Corbett, charming enough the first time out, is basically window dressing here, while supporting players Joey Fatone, Gia Carides and Louis Mandylor all hit the same notes.
Andrea Martin remains the most significant scene stealer as feisty Aunt Voula, but even with a bit more screen time it’s emblematic of the pic as a whole that she doesn’t get anything as quotable as “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? That’s OK. I make lamb.”