NEW YORK (OSV News) -- With age comes wisdom, so we're told. But apparently that doesn't apply to the quartet of AARP-eligible friends at the core of the romantic comedy sequel "Book Club: The Next Chapter" (Focus). These seniors remain addicted to the same brand of sophomoric bedroom gags that marred the kickoff.
In fact, things go from bad to worse in comparison to the 2018 original since the culmination of returning director and co-writer (with Erin Simms) Bill Holderman's follow-up swerves from the merely cringeworthy to the morally reprehensible. Thus his film should be avoided by all.
Last time out the pals -- hotel owner Vivian (Jane Fonda), then-recently widowed Diane (Diane Keaton), federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) and happily married Carol (Mary Steenburgen) -- got all hot and bothered after reading E.L. James' sadomasochistic "Fifty Shades" trilogy. Now it's time for a road trip.
With bed-hopping Vivian having finally agreed to marry her live-in boyfriend Arthur (Don Johnson) -- who first proposed to her in their youth -- the amigos decide to realize a long-deferred dream by traveling to Italy, using the journey as a bachelorette idyll. So they embark on a trek to Rome, Venice and Tuscany.
What follows for most of the running time is a visually pleasing survey of the Bel Paese weighed down by groan-inducing double entendres and the sight of an ensemble of award-winning actresses leering at nude statues. The dialogue even includes a sexual joke about St. Teresa of Kolkata, which must rank as the very nadir of bad taste.
When the script turns serious as the buddies exchange personal critiques in an effort to work out one another's problems, tedium takes hold. Pop psychology nostrums fill the air and spark utterly unconvincing moments of supposed insight.
But it's the movie's finale that really crosses the line. While a detailed analysis would require spoilers, suffice it to say that the concluding scenes present long-term shacking up as a valid alternative to marriage.
Fornication or wedlock? It all depends on your personality, Holderman and Simms suggest. The real lesson here, though, is that there's no fool like an old fool – or, for that matter, an unspliced pair of them.
The film contains skewed values, an offscreen but benignly viewed casual encounter, implied cohabitation, pervasive sexual humor, a blasphemous expression, a couple of profanities, constant milder swearing and a few crude terms. The OSV News classification is O -- morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.
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