For a re­view of “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,”

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Wel­come back to the magi- cal is­land of Kalokairi, a sun- strewn rocky out­crop­ping in the azure Aegean Sea, a land where white peo­ple can only ex­press them­selves with the mu­sic of Swe­den’s most en­dur­ing mu­si­cal group, ABBA.

The se­quel/pre­quel hy­brid “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” ar­rives a decade af­ter the bonkers filmed adap­ta­tion of the stage mu­si­cal “Mamma Mia!” Ve­hi­cles for ABBA’s songs, the films per­fectly re­flect the mu­sic: guile­less, emo­tion­ally raw and un­abashedly cheesy, wrapped in miles and miles of col­or­ful syn­thetic fab­ric.

This many lovelorn ABBA songs re­quires quite a story into which to shoe­horn the tunes, and “Mamma Mia!” tripled down on love lost and found with three spurned lovers, Bill (Stel­lan Skars­gård), Sam (Pierce Bros­nan) and Harry (Colin Firth), re­turn­ing to Kalokairi for the wed­ding of So­phie (Amanda Seyfried), who hoped to find her fa­ther.

Now, she’s ac­cepted all three men as adopted dads, and she’s re­open­ing the ho­tel af­ter her mother’s death (yep, there’s al­most no Meryl Streep here). While she gives tours to visi­tors around the prop­erty, she rem­i­nisces about her mother’s jour­ney to the is­land, right out of Ox­ford. We get the part of the story pre­vi­ously only de­tailed in a jour­nal, of young hip­pie Donna (Lily James) and her three way­ward lovers.

James has proven a win­some pres­ence in “Cin­derella,” “Baby Driver” and “Dark­est Hour,” but “Here We Go Again” is a break­out su­per­star mo­ment for her as the free-spir­ited, earthy and open-hearted Donna. She’s an in­spired singer and dancer, and ev­ery time the film cuts away from her story is a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment — even though it’s al­ways en­ter­tain­ing to see what new ways the film­mak­ers have dreamed up to hu­mil­i­ate Skars­gård and Firth. But young Donna’s story is so much more emo­tion­ally en­gross­ing, and the cast­ing of Donna’s friends, the Dy­namos (Jes­sica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies) is spot on, as well as her lovers Harry, Bill and Sam (Hugh Skin­ner, Josh Dy­lan and Jeremy Irvine).

Direc­tor Ol Parker takes over writ­ing and di­rect­ing du­ties from Phyl­l­ida Lloyd and Cather­ine John­son (who wrote the book of the stage mu­si­cal). In Parker’s hands, the se­quel is far more grounded and melo­dra­matic, lack­ing some of the ram­bunc­tious pop and fizz Lloyd brought to “Mamma Mia,” the cin­e­matic equiv­a­lent of trucker speed. There’s a lot less run­ning and singing, and singing while run­ning, but there is, of course, a flotilla of boats filled with peo­ple en­thu­si­as­ti­cally per­form­ing chore­og­ra­phy to “Dancing Queen.”

There’s also still enough crack­pot in­san­ity to go around: a par­tic­u­larly sur­real ver­sion of “Water­loo” is set in a French restau­rant, and Chris­tine Baran­ski gets sev­eral crack­er­jack lines.

“Have him washed and brought to my tent,” she opines af­ter as­sess­ing Andy Gar­cia’s se­duc­tive Señor Cien­fue­gos. We haven’t even got­ten to Cher yet, who ar­rives like a benev­o­lent rock de­ity and turns the last 20 min­utes of the film into a per­sonal concert. She’s play­ing So­phie’s “grand­mother,” but truly she’s just play­ing her­self, and her sheer pres­ence is ap­plause-wor­thy.

Much like its pre­de­ces­sor, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is es­capist fluff of the high­est or­der — joy­ful, filled with beloved pop songs and in­cred­i­bly bizarre. Go ahead and treat your­self to this rau­cous sea­side sum­mer con­fec­tion, you de­serve it.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” a Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG-13 for some sug­ges­tive ma­te­rial. Run­ning time: 114 min­utes. ★★★

“The Equal­izer 2”

It seems ev­ery ven­er­a­ble ac­tor of a cer­tain age has got to have a trusty ac­tion fran­chise to fall back on th­ese days. And for Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, that’s “The Equal­izer” films, based on the ’80s TV show about a for­mer in­tel­li­gence agent us­ing his skills to help the less for­tu­nate. Directed by An­toine Fuqua, the 2014 film fea­tured Wash­ing­ton demon­strat­ing a fa­cil­ity with a ham­mer that made it so we’ll never look at a Home De­pot the same way. In “The Equal­izer 2,” the team of direc­tor Fuqua, writer Richard Wenk and Wash­ing­ton re­turn for a se­quel that coasts on its star’s charisma.

“The Equal­izer” films ask us to be­hold Wash­ing­ton’s Robert McCall with a dou­ble con­scious­ness. He’s in­cred­i­bly lethal, coldly and ef­fi­ciently vi­o­lent, as demon­strated in an pro­logue where he takes out an en­tire bar car of Turk­ish gang­sters on a train. But he’s fun­da­men­tally a do-gooder — all that Turk­ish mur­der? The gang­sters were kid­nap­pers, and McCall just wants to re­turn the lit­tle girl home, no re­ward or plau­dits nec­es­sary.

He reads Ta-Ne­hisi Coates and men­tors lo­cal youths, helps Holo­caust sur­vivors dis­cover their long-lost fam­ily con­nec­tions and sat­is­fy­ingly, beats up a suite full of en­ti­tled bankers af­ter they sex­u­ally as­sault a woman. There’s no news­pa­per ad this time; in­stead, McCall finds his clients while driving Lyft, whether they want his help or not.

In “The Equal­izer 2,” the com­mu­nity ac­tion sto­ry­line — a more touchy-feely ver­sion of “Death Wish,” if you will — is priv­i­leged, and it’s far more com­pelling than the flimsy, req­ui­site in­ter­na­tional as­sas­si­na­tion con­spir­acy plot. This part of the story is tis­sue thin, and the plot­ting around it is frankly plod­ding. It’s both slow and un­der­writ­ten, mak­ing you think you’re miss­ing some­thing. You’re not.

But this time, it hits home for McCall, as his old friend Susan (Melissa Leo) runs into some trou­ble in­ves­ti­gat­ing a mur­der-sui­cide of a deep cover agent in Brus­sels, which kicks up a whole trea­sonous mess that McCall un­cov­ers. Although he’s long been thought dead, he re­veals him­self to his old part­ner, Dave (Pe­dro Pas­cal), and his re-emer­gence proves com­pli­cated. While McCall seeks those who went af­ter Susan, he’s pur­sued by a team of mur­der­ous mercs.

Wash­ing­ton is the best thing about “The Equal­izer 2.” Which is slightly un­fair, be­cause he’s usu­ally the best thing in any movie he’s in, but he re­ally keeps this one on the rails with his sheer mag­netism, his unique abil­ity to be charm­ing and psy­chotic at the same time. But un­like a film like “Train­ing Day,” we know he’s the good guy, even when he’s calmly dis­patch­ing vil­lains. Be­cause he’s Den­zel, and also be­cause the film bends over back­wards to re­mind us of his good­ness.

The lo­cal teen he de­cides to save from a life of crime and vi­o­lence this time around is Miles (Ashton San­ders), and the gang sto­ry­line is in­cred­i­bly cheesy, a fac­sim­ile of ev­ery rep­re­sen­ta­tion we’ve seen from “Boyz in the Hood” to “The Wire.” San­ders, a promis­ing tal­ent who was stun­ning in “Moon­light,” does the best he can with what he’s given, which isn’t much.

It’s also ironic, con­sid­er­ing McCall pulled the boy off the streets, only to get him mixed up in an in­ter­na­tional as­sas­si­na­tion ring, and then some­how, in the trunk of a car at a hur­ri­cane-swept sea­side Mas­sachusetts town. Truth­fully, we’re all won­der­ing how we ended up in the midst of “The Hur­ri­cane Heist” in this com­pletely inane cli­max. Even with Wash­ing­ton at the top of his game, “The Equal­izer 2” just doesn’t de­liver the thrills.

“The Equal­izer 2,” a Columbia Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for brutal vi­o­lence through­out, lan­guage, and some drug con­tent. Run­ning time: 121 min­utes.



Den­zel Wash­ing­ton, left, and Pe­dro Pas­cal star in the new Columbia Pic­tures re­lease “Equal­izer 2.”

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