Twenty years ago, music video maestro McG vaulted to the directorial A-list with his feature debut “Charlie’s Angels,” a not-particularly-promising reboot concept that turned out a thorough delight. He then immediately began easing himself off that list with 2003’s sequel “Full Throttle,” the first in a string of big-screen disappointments. Apart from inspirational sports tale “We Are Marshall,” arguably his best movie since then was Netflix’s “The Babysitter” three years ago, a rock-solid horror comedy in which his temptation toward overstatement was reined in by Brian Duffield’s clever script.
Alas, history repeats itself with a sequel from whose screenplay that writer is pointedly absent, and the charms of the predecessor once again get lost amidst bombast, witlessness and self-referentiality. This dud piñata dumps its contents of over-the-top gore and lowbrow humor onto Netflix worldwide Sept. 10. Fans of the original will no doubt tune expecting more high-grade guilty-pleasure fun, only to get way too much of a no-longer-very-good thing instead.
Creative laziness is evident right away, as a brief recap of the first film’s events is followed by new scenes that replicate prior ones. This is passably cute for a while, but it goes on, and on. No longer a bullied 12-year-old, having successfully survived discovering that his beloved babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving) was a Satanic blood cult leader, suburbanite Cole (Judah Lewis) is now a bullied high schooler — because no one believed his story, and thus they all assume he’s “crazy.” (There’s zero explanation as to why the disappearance of Bee, her coven, and two police officers had no apparent fallout.)
In fact, upon realizing their son still harbors these “delusions,” Cole’s parents (Ken Marino, Leslie Bibb) plan on packing him off to a psychiatric institution. To escape that, he accepts remaining sole real friend-slash-crush object Melanie’s (Emily Alyn Lind) invite to ride along as she and her inconvenient musclebound boyfriend (Maximilian Acevedo), plus sidekicks Diego (Juliocesar Chavez) and Boomboom (Jennifer Foster), attend an annual lakeside youth blowout.
Upon arriving there, they board somebody’s boat, wherein more events like those of the first film occur. Spoiler provisos aside, the surprises aren’t very surprising: You know what we’re in for the second you notice that once-mousy Melanie is now styled exactly as sexpot Bee was.
A tough new girl at school, Phoebe (Jenny Ortega), turns up to provide Cole an ally and escape vehicle. Later locations include rocky desert terrain (evidently this is the Southwest) and the requisite horror-movie “cabin in the woods.” Nemeses from “The Babysitter” turn out to be not-so-dead after all, though the screenplay (credited to four, including the director) uses them like recyclable cannon fodder, resurrected to be gorily offed again and again. There’s a lot of beheading, and it is representative of the groan-inducing repartee here that Bella Thorne’s returned cheerleader Allison explains her restored noggin with “Luckily, the Devil gives good head.”
“Killer Queen” is colorful and energetic, but exactly as with “Full Throttle,” elements that seemed giddily outré yet fine-tuned the last time around are now just louder, cruder, more effortful and repetitious. There’s far too much emphasis on uninspired comic riffing from subsidiary characters, notably Marino and Chris Wylde as dads who ride to the attempted rescue. Further excesses include over-dependence on soundtracking the most obvious classic pop hits; too many on-the-nose verbal references to prior movies; an overdose of jokey onscreen text graphics; and a badly misplaced faith that you can’t possibly have enough cartoonish violence or sophomoric sexual humor.
The any-dumb-idea-that-occurs-to-us-makes-final-cut approach can be liberating when at least some of your jokes land. But here they almost never do, making this the kind of movie where a sense of the filmmakers’ helpless hilarity at their imagined wit only makes its near-complete absence more painful. When a bit does hit a note of pleasing goofiness (as in a brief retro-dance/sex scene montage), it’s a rare pearl among general swinishness. The simultaneously self-conscious and tone-deaf sensibility at work here is such that at one point teen Phoebe accounts for various obnoxious behaviors by opining “What else do you expect from a collection of attention-seeking social media millenials with esteem issues?” — a 60-year-old’s genius insight on Today’s Youth, in a movie very much aimed at them young ’uns.
“Killer Queen” is slick and flashy in all departments, albeit to considerably less positive effect than the modestly scaled original (which was principally confined to a single house interior). Asked to act as if they’re having the lark of their lives, the performers don’t seem convinced. And no wonder — one can only be face-splatted by a blood fountain so many times before suspecting the gag might have worn out its welcome. (Pee-in-the-eye, by contrast, makes just a single guest appearance.)
The final taste of cilantro in this cynical cake comes with a late dash of sentimentality all the more bogus for being one time the filmmakers do not appear to be joking. As before, a brief coda suggests a potential next “Babysitter” chapter. But in the great tradition of “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” this is the eagerly-awaited sequel that ends up drastically reducing any desire for another.