Directed by Anne Fletcher.
Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Lilia Buckingham, Belissa Escobedo, Froy Gutierrez, Doug Jones, Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Hannah Waddingham, Juju Journey Brener, Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen, Thomas Fitzgerald, Brett Cramp, Austin J. Ryan, and Michael Tow.
Three young women accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern-day Salem and must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.
If there is anything remotely intriguing to do with a 29-years-later sequel, simply titled Hocus Pocus 2, it’s playing up the idea that modern society has embraced witches and now studies the Salem witch trials in a new light.
That concept is briefly touched upon here as the Sanderson Sisters (still dimwitted and spiritedly played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, clearly having fun revisiting these roles) return, but to the confusion and surprise of being adulated. Their 17th-century home has been transformed into a Salem attraction headed up by Sam Richardson’s giddy and excitable Gilbert, a fanboy of the whole legacy regarding the first film’s events, who thinks they were misunderstood by history. They have also become in-demand Halloween costumes, often coming across cosplay counterparts of themselves.
It’s unfortunate then that director Anne Fletcher (collaborating with screenwriter Jen D’Angelo, who conceived the story alongside David Kirschner and Blake Harris, with the former and Mick Garris having initially created these characters) doesn’t seem to care what the full potential of that concept could be. Instead, Hocus Pocus 2 ops to play the hits – fish out of water humor, a race against time, musical numbers, and themes about friendship – all done extensively worse.
The comedy was never exactly highbrow, but at least when the Sanderson Sisters didn’t understand what a bus was during their 1993 visit, it felt like a natural joke to make. Here, that brand of comedy is mined from technology, including hoverboards and Alexa, not to mention an extended sequence set in a Walgreens where the only thing one can think about is how much that particular store got paid. That’s one way of saying Hocus Pocus 2 never misses an opportunity to turn its attempts at comedy into shamelessly embarrassing product placement.
But as much as the Alexa bit broke me inside, the scene where a new trio of friends (we will get them in a moment) trick the Sanderson Sisters by pretending a bottle of water is housing a liquid for concocting one of their potions, is what killed me inside. There are many things about modern life they do not know, but I’m pretty sure they had fucking water back in the 17th century. So you can also add dumbing down the characters more than necessary to the list of commonplace sequel issues Hocus Pocus 2 falls into.
Anyway, opposite the Sanderson Sisters are teenagers Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). There is a rift between the childhood friends as while Cassie still wants to spend time with Becca and Izzy, she’s oblivious that they don’t enjoy her bully boyfriend Mike (Froy Gutierrez) coming along for every adventure.
It is also Becca’s sixteenth birthday, but she and Izzy hide the celebration plans even though Cassie wants to hang out with them (they seem to think she doesn’t). Since she is not invited, Cassie and her boyfriend will hold an unsupervised party at her home while her father (Tony Hale in a cringe role) spends all night trying to obtain a taffy apple. The point is, none of these people understand a damn thing about communication.
The ritual for bringing the Sanderson Sisters back remains the same, meaning that Becca and Izzy unknowingly come into possession of a Black Flame Candle and light it. The sisters arrive with Winifred (Bette Midler) deciding she wants to be all-powerful, casting a spell from Book (locked up in their former Salem home as part of the attraction) she once swore she never would (there’s a somewhat engaging prologue detailing this out that will probably make most people wish the entire sequel was set during the 17th-century, just to do something different).
Part of the ingredients also involves digging up her ex-boyfriend Billy again, played by a returning Doug Jones, whose performance is one of the only funny aspects here. They are also out for revenge, with one of the character’s bloodlines returning to that 17th-century opening sequence.
Keeping in line with the popularity of good witches now, Hocus Pocus 2 does arrive at a somewhat fitting and satisfying conclusion (the special effects are obviously much better this time around, although some might miss the charmingly outdated effects from the original), but it doesn’t accomplish much of note with any of those characters along the way.
Hocus Pocus 2 is first and foremost a retread, and while the Sanderson trio are enjoying themselves, that buzz isn’t infectious. Considering its eye-rolling comedy and commitment to repetition while ignoring the few and far between interesting elements, Hocus Pocus 2 won’t put a spell on you.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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