The Mommy Returns asks that audiences care about the plight of a bunch of truly awful people. It doesn’t seem difficult to feel for a family that has lost their mother, or a woman struggling to gain the favor of the children of the man she loves, or a man trying to make sure that his family is taken care of. But the movie makes it very difficult by being aggressively awful. This is a comedy that refuses to be funny, lapsing into hysterical dramatics as it makes a bid for some sort of gravity. But the gravity just isn’t there.
Ruby (Pokwang) was happily married to William (Gabby Concepcion). But she dies tragically on their 25th wedding anniversary. Ruby ends up in purgatory, where she is made to witness the plight of her family. Much to her surprise and dismay, William quickly falls in love with the beautiful Catherine (Ruffa Gutierrez), and in spite of his children's objections, he immediately plans to get remarried. Ruby returns to Earth as a ghost with the intention of haunting her former husband and sabotaging his new marriage.
The movie is unique in that it has no sympathetic characters. Ruby comes off as jealous and vindictive, Catherine is vain and incompetent, and William is secretive and manipulative. It's hard to care about the central conflict of the movie, because there's no one to really root for. To make things worse, the film plays half its scenes dramatically, as if the story actually had some emotional core. It founders horrifically as it lapses into soap opera melodrama, bringing in silly twists and the odd gunman to approximate some version of gravity. It doesn't work. In the end, the conflict never really rises, and things resolve themselves without any real help from the plot.
At points, it feels like the movie is struggling to make its runtime. Too many of the scenes have nothing to do with the plot. The sequences with the goddess of purgatory on Earth seem particularly out of place, the movie wasting time as it watches the character lusting over Earth men. It does not help that the movie is shot so poorly. It has no dramatic or comedic rhythm, different tones mashed together in a confused hodgepodge of scenes. The movie looks very much like a television show, lacking the sort of depth and scale that one associates with a cinematic production. Badly executed makeup and special effects only add to the overall cheapness of the film.
The cast seems to treat the film as a TV exercise as well, delivering super broad performances that belie the size of the screen. Pokwang is always kind of funny, but the material just isn’t strong enough to give her the lift she needs. Gabby Concepcion is generally a ham on screen anyway, but comedy seems to bring out the worst in him. Ruffa Gutierrez’s inherent air of superiority offers some laughs, but she stumbles hard through the dramatic moments of the picture. And the kids are terrible.
The Mommy Returns doesn’t really know how to be funny. In theory, the premise lends itself to a goofy comedy filled with hijinks. In practice, the characters are far too terrible to each other for any of it to be funny. The film is a dreadful bore, lacking in jokes while pushing for false emotion as it stumbles through a boatload of hastily assembled drama. In the end it doesn’t seem like the movie is asking for laughs anymore. It ends on a strangely sentimental tone driven by absurd violence and unearned sympathy.