Judge Gordon Sullivan tried leading a chorus of monks, but they'd taken vows of silence.
No sex. No booze. No men. No way.
On paper, Sister Act (let alone its sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit) should not work. Who would have thought that combining nuns, small-time gangsters, and Sixties pop hits could yield a satisfying movie—especially a comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg? Yet work it does, thanks to a quick pace and a game cast. Though neither film in the Sister Act & Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (Blu-ray) double feature has aged very well, the first film holds up surprisingly well, with the sequel a slight bum note in an otherwise attractive package.
Sister Act is the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer in Nevada. When she sees her small-time mobster boyfriend off a disloyal employee, she goes to the cops. The cops put her in hiding in a convent as a nun. Things do not go well for Deloris in the convent, until she takes over the choir. Her skills as a lounge singer help give the nuns a boost. However, as the nuns grow more confident in their singing, they draw more attention, the kind of attention Deloris can't afford to have drawn to her.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit is the same story, but this time Deloris has to whip a group of teenagers into singing shape.
Sister Act survives today over twenty years later for one reason, it knows what it is and does that one thing to the best of its ability. That one thing is combining the usual fish-out-of-water comedy with the protagonist-learns-by-teaching. Within that scope, the film succeeds in being light entertainment that could be watched by a family without too much trouble. Whoopi Goldberg plays Sister Mary Clarence as a lounge singer with a heart of gold, and Maggie Smith is her opposite number as the Mother Superior of the convent. They have a strong rapport, and that spills over to the rest of the nuns as well. Yes, it's predictable. Yes, it's basically been done before. However, like the Sixties pop tunes that populate the soundtrack, Sister Act is harmless and infectious in equal measure.
The same cannot be said for Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, which finds Sister Mary Clarence helping save a Catholic school by directing their choir. It's the same song with a new verse, and this time everything is off-key. Without the gangster motivation, the story has no thrust, which means the pacing is off. There was something new(ish) about making the fish-out-of-water story about nuns and singing. There's nothing at all original about "let's save the school" stories, nuns or not. Whatever tiny spark of imagination that kept Sister Act afloat is missing here, and the actors seem to know it. They turn in fine performances, but they lack the easy charm of the first outing.
That said, the best things about both films are the musical numbers. The arrangements are interesting, the song choices surprising, and by the second film, there are some decent dance moves on display. Though I doubt that the soundtrack to either film still gets regular rotation in anyone's CD player, the solid music actually elevates both these films.
Surprisingly, Sister Act looks pretty amazing on Blu-ray. The cinematography isn't flashy, but this 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is strong. Colors are warm and detail is appropriate (check out the patterning on some of Deloris' early outfits for proof). Grain is handled well for the most part with only the tiniest bit of noise here and there. Sister Act 2 is just a touch less impressive. It's a bit softer overall, and grain is less well-handled.
Less impressive are the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks. Dialogue reproduction is a bit uneven (though that might be a flaw in the source), but more significantly neither the surrounds or the LFE channel get much love here. It's probably the fault of the source recordings rather than this track, but it means the audio is less immersive than the films deserve.
The disc includes a 13-minute featurette and a music video as the only extras. Though, if you consider Sister Act 2 as a bonus, no one would blame you. There are also two extra discs, one each for DVDs of the films.
The first Sister Act flick is a family film that has aged surprisingly well. It offers some goofy comedy, decent singing, and the twist of lounge singer into nun works surprisingly well. It won't ever earn more than cult status, but it holds up today. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit plays more like a cash-in, but taken as a bonus to the otherwise decent first film, it's forgivable. Those who want to own an improved-looking version of these films should definitely pick up this Blu-ray set.
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