Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo worked magic in the past as co-writers and costars in “Bridesmaids,” the hilarious 2011 comedy that imbued warmth into its fresh take on the bonds women share. In “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” the pair reunite and try to bottle that same magic to little avail. There’s no shortage of jokes, but very few leave laughs in their wake.
It’s tough to begrudge the efforts of a film so vibrantly brought to life with overwhelming pastels and song-and-dance numbers — a club-remix of Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” a charming opening lip-sync to Barbra Streisand’s “Guilty.” To its credit, “Barb and Star” doesn’t waste any time in announcing how truly bizarre it plans to be. That said, director Josh Greenbaum never manages to create a cohesive tone. For all its sugary sweet coating, this movie is nothing more than mindless, mundane distraction.
At the very least we can imagine Wiig and Mumolo had a blast creating the script’s increasingly heightened stakes and outlandish characters, with each new beat playing out like a dare to see how far they can push the limit. The film begins simply enough as the tale of lifelong friends Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), who recently lost their jobs at a local furniture store. They decide that instead of just reliving old stories and habits they should embark on a tropical vacation to Vista Del Mar, Fla., in order to create new memories and challenge themselves — to get their “shimmer” as Barb calls it. Once there, the film quickly morphs into something far more eccentric and erratically plotted, hitting its peak when they meet Edgar (Jamie Dornan), who is staying at the same resort but has ulterior motives.
The cast of “Barb and Star” appears to delight in each and every new ridiculous turn the plot takes them. Of the cast, Dornan takes the longest to settle into the sillier aspects of his character. By the end, though, he has shaken off any initial discomfort and committed in a way that would seem unimaginable based on prior roles. (He’s best known for “50 Shades of Grey.”) Wiig and Mumolo share a palpable chemistry as the title characters, which allows for glossing over details, such as the origins of their wavering Midwestern accents.
It’s unfortunate, then, that for all of the purposeful clownery and disregard for any semblance of logic, “Barb and Star” is so incessantly irritating. Part of the risk that comes with crafting a film comparable to a live-action cartoon is how it tests the audience’s patience. The style of comedy deployed here — deliberately dumb and absurdist — would require greater consistency to work for more than a single joke. In a film that tries to do it all with dramatic villain entrances, public declarations of friendship, an army of killer mosquitoes, and a talking turtle, it’s instead a case of being too much but not enough, relying on building laughter through Barb and Star’s naivete instead of committing fully to its own fantasy.
Perhaps it’s due to Wiig and Mumolo as co-writers or Greenbaum, a director best known for his work in sitcoms, but “Barb and Star” feels more like a series of overlong “SNL” sketches than a fully formed film. In recent history, films like the 2007 comedy “Hot Rod” also disregarded real-world logic for the sake of a story that would thrive without those limitations. It’s clear that Wiig and Mumulo would like to reach similar heights. However, in its efforts to be dizzying, delightful, escapist fun, “Barb and Star” gets lost in its own self-indulgence.
BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR
Directed by Josh Greenbaum. Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig. Starring Mumolo, Wiig, and Jamie Dornan. On Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and FandangoNOW. In theaters and premium on demand. 106 minutes. PG-13