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      Bad Moms Review

      Bad Moms poster

      Bad Moms

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      As surely as most mothers can't win, "Bad Moms" can't lose. Certainly it can't lose with moms who've endured, through gritted teeth, one too many R-rated guy comedies where the women on screen are either sidelined or humiliated or leaning down a lot, for the gratification of the male gaze. This movie represents a vacation from mean-spirited sexism like "The Hangover."

      Or does it?

      Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. The "Hangover" writing team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore scripted "Bad Moms," which they also directed, with an indeterminate sense of style but a fiercely determined sense of what will work with its target audience. All across America, anywhere three or more have a second to spare, women with children are talking about how they want a moms-night-out to see this one. And already, comment board after comment board has been clogged up by debates over the film's most infamous sequence, which uncircumcised males may never live down.

      The story premise is quick and easy, like its title. In a fictional suburb of Chicago called Westbury (played by New Orleans, which doesn't look like Chicago), Amy, played by Mila Kunis, runs her life as an exercise in just-in-time management. It's too much. Her part-time job with an Intelligensia-type coffee company involves a patronizing jerk of a boss (Clark Duke), who regards the early-30s Amy as a senior citizen. Her hours run well into full-time territory. Amy's husband, discovered early on at his home computer with his pants down, has gotten far too comfortable with 0.007 percent of the child care and home upkeep.

      Amy's two kids offer facile study in contrasts, one a nerve-wracked overachiever, the other a slacker perfectly happy to have mom take care of his schoolwork. ("Here's your American history project I made for you," she says, handing her son a huge papier-mache bust of Nixon.) "Bad Moms" sets up a war between our heroine and the fearsome, perfection-plus fellow moms at school, led by the PTA president played by Christina Applegate in the key of B. She pulls all the strings, decides who gets the starter positions on girls' soccer and seethes like an unfunny first cousin to Tracy Flick of "Election."

      The best material is the least plot-dependent. As in "The Hangover," there's an odd-triangle at the center, and the casting of the key threesome clicks nicely. Kristen Bell plays the beaten-down homemaker whose husband is a controlling twerp, just asking for his comeuppance. Kathryn Hahn dominates the comedy as the divorced working mother whose every line, good or bad, is designed to elicit a "Yeah, she said it!!" from the audience. "I'd rather go to Afghanistan than another kids baseball game," she says.

      It all comes down to Amy and her new pals squaring off against the Applegate character, backed by Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumolo as her cronies, in a vicious PTA presidential election. "Bad Moms" takes Amy's maelstrom of a life just seriously enough to connect with all sorts of parents, though you're continually aware of all the pandering and shortcuts and b.s. afoot. (Why should this female-driven comedy be different from most male-driven ones?) Amy's work issues are solved in two absurd lines of dialogue. Her love life is solved by a conveniently located sensitive widower hunk (Jay Hernandez). The movie exists for its scenes of Amy and pals cutting loose in various montages: wild parties, getting plowed, drunk-grocery shopping.

      Then comes the already infamous bit where Hahn's character, Carla, discusses and illustrates the horrors of the "gross" uncircumcised penis and how to cope with it. Nothing's sacred in comedy, and as Trump says, we're all too politically correct. Still. "Bad Moms" keeps settling for less than it should, given the talent on screen. It's lazy, and tonally indistinct; half the time you wish it went further, and risked something with the Kunis character. The other half of the time you may find yourself frustrated with the puerile caricatures filling in the margins.

      I write this even as I'm thinking: Why would any woman listen to me on this movie? I admit to watching it in a rotating cycle of guilt (Am I actually worse than the bad husbands in this movie?) and comic snobbery (I didn't like the "Hangover" movies, either, even the first one). Even so: Like that first, massively lucrative "Hangover," "Bad Moms" comes through an end-credits sequence so clearly superior to everything that comes before it, it's like an insurance policy for popular success.

      MPAA rating: R (for sexual material, full frontal nudity, language throughout, and drug and alcohol content).

      Running time: 1:41

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