At 81, it is admirable that director Garry Marshall is still cranking out feature films. Unfortunately, since he started turning faux holidays into excuses for movies with Valentine’s Day in 2010, followed in 2011 by New Year’s Eve, he — and we — have been experiencing diminishing returns. But Valentine’s Day was Shakespeare compared to what we have now with Mother’s Day. He has milked this cow dry with a formula movie that appears to be a cross between a Love Boat episode and a Hallmark greeting card.

As I say in my video review above, unfortunately this isn’t one of the funny greeting cards but rather a treacly, gooey kind with forgettable sentiments. It is too bad because Marshall is a fine commercial director who has made a lot of films I like including Pretty Woman, Beaches, Nothing In Common and The Flamingo Kid, and here he has gathered, as always, a top-drawer cast including Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Jason Sudeikis. Unfortunately, they are all wasted on a low-level, by-the-numbers shtickcom script (credited to Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Anya Kochoff and Matthew Walker) that has no spark, wit or real drama and surprisingly no laughs at all. Sadly, this does not add up to a happy Mother’s Day for fans of this cast.

pete hammond review badgeI really wanted to like this movie because I do admire everyone involved, so it’s doubly disappointing. Aniston, coming off a career-best performance in Cake, tries to make the best of her role as a divorced mother of two boys (one of whom suffers from asthmatic attacks), who has to deal with ex-hubby’s (Timothy Olyphant) hot new wife (Shay Mitchell) as she ingratiates her way into the broken family. Sudeikis, her co-star in the much better We’re The Millers, is a widower with two girls that she keeps coincidentally running into at inopportune moments. You can guess where that’s going. Hudson and Sarah Chalke play sisters who have been keeping their spouses and kids hidden (for good reason) from their prying parents (Margo Martindale and Robert Pine) who are coming for a visit. The racist, homophobic parental pair soon find they are dealing with Hudson’s hubby, an Indian man (Aasif Mandvi) Pine calls a “towelhead,” and Chalke’s significant other, a woman.  You can also guess where that’s heading. Then there is Roberts, forced to wear a wig that made me think she was using this appearance as an audition for the next Three Stooges film. Does she want to be Moe? At any rate, she plays a single home-shopping guru who dispenses products and advice to mothers everywhere without ever having been one herself. Or has she? You can also guess where that is going too. 

All of these storylines, including another involving new mom Britt Robertson, switch back and forth, intersecting at various points but not adding up to much of anything to chew on. All might be forgiven if Marshall and his four writers were able to come up with anything mildly amusing for this talented cast to do, but they are all adrift trying to make something, anything, work. Everyone is struggling here. Aniston really gives it the old college try and you can see her years of experience in Friends coming into play, but when the best the writers can dream up is getting your arm stuck trying to retrieve candy from a vending machine, you know you are in trouble.

The real crime here is managing to make the marvelous Martindale such an mother's dayinsufferable blowhard, as well as perhaps giving Roberts the worst look she has ever had onscreen — it’s a long way from Pretty Woman. There’s also a surprise cameo from Jennifer Garner, who turns up in home movies singing a karaoke tune as Sudeikis’ late wife. With Aniston, Roberts, Hudson and Garner, you have a who’s who of America’s Sweethearts on display here. Marshall is always able to attract A-list casts because reportedly his sets are so much fun. In this case that likely won’t translate to the multiplexes, where distributor Open Road Films is releasing it Friday.

But this film was not made for critics or cineastes, and no crime was committed here. Marshall, a smart veteran of TV and film, always has the audience in mind first, as he should, and your grandmother just might find this right up her alley. But a Love Boat rerun might even be better. Producers are Brandt Anderson, Howard Burd, Daniel Diamond, Mark DiSalle, Mike Karz and Wayne Allan Rice (among 23 other listed execs with producer in their credited title on IMDb).

Do you plan to see Mother’s Day? Let us know what you think.