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Mamma Mia! Reviews

Based on the long-running ABBA-inspired stage sensation, this hot mess of a movie musical spins a perilously thin tale of love and marriage on a Greek isle, and then ransacks the Swedish pop phenomenon's songbook for vaguely relevant songs. It's musical writing in reverse -- something Broadway audiences craving familiar, unchallenging material have come to demand -- and whatever charms it may have had as a live production have been lost in director Phyllida Lloyd's sloppy big-screen translation. Born and raised on the idyllic Greek island of Kalokairi where her American mom, Donna (Meryl Streep), has been running her own ramshackle but charming inn for the past 15 years, 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is about to marry her fiance, Sky (HISTORY BOY'S Dominic Cooper). The ceremony will take place at tiny chapel perched high above the Aegean and the reception will be held at "Villa Donna" which, on the eve of the nuptials, has begun to fill with guests. Sophie's best friends (Ashley Lilley, Rachel McDowall) have arrived as have Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), Donna's two mates from the good old days when they performed in platform boots and sequined bell sleeves as the glitzy '70s glam trio "Donna and the Dynamos." But there's one important person who isn't on the guest list, because Sophie has no idea who he is: her father. Sophie was the unexpected end result of one footloose summer her mother spent on Kalokairi 20 years earlier, and Donna herself doesn't really know whose seed stuck. Desperately wanting her father to walk her down the aisle and give her away at the altar, Sophie pores over her mother's old diary for clues and comes up with three likely suspects: stuffy banker Harry Bright (Colin Firth), adventurous travel writer Bill Austin (Stellan Skarsgaard) and Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), Donna's one true love who broke her heart when he returned to his fiancee. Certain she'd know which one is her dad the moment she lays eyes on him, Sophie, unbeknownst to Donna, invites them all to Kalokairi, then swears them all to secrecy. But deceiving Donna leads to a number of comic misunderstandings and comedic errors and a total of 22 -- count 'em, 22 -- random ABBA songs that come so fast and thick and loud it leaves characters shouting over the soundtrack to be heard. Constructing a musical around a preexisting set of songs isn't always a bad thing: Look at MOULIN ROUGE! the recent French hit CHANSONS D'AMOUR, or Julie Taymor's visionary ACROSS THE UNIVERSE which put a fresh spin on age-old Beatles classics by setting them in imaginative but always appropriate contexts. Had the action here been set in, say, in the 1970s, and reflected the real content of ABBA's songs -- the best of which are melancholy pop confections that often reflected the very real emotional turmoil that was tearing the group apart -- Lloyd, the director of the original stage production, might have produced something more than an ingratiating karaoke sing-along set in a pretty locale. Streep works very, very hard and manages to pull it off (even if it means acting slightly drunk) and Baranski is so good with such bad material you want to sneak her off this picture and into something better worth her time and talent. But the direction is slack -- it's Lloyd's first feature film and it shows -- the choreography clumsy and every ten minutes there's yet another gratuitous showstopper shouting in your face and insisting you have a good time.