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Take Two


Mamma Mia! & r & & r & by MARYANN JOHANSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f there's one thing that's clear from this revue of ABBA's hit songs, it's that there really aren't all that many great ABBA songs. "Dancing Queen" and "Take a Chance on Me" are pretty catchy, but it's only during these two tunes -- staged with much bouncy dancing about and enthusiastic but inadequate crooning by less-than-professional singers -- when this contrived film adaptation of the stage production sparks to genuine life. Maybe British theater director Phyllida Lloyd, making her feature debut here, feels the same way I do about ABBA.

It's a tepid tale that's shoehorned around the songs, which treads water getting from one earnestly mounted tune to the next. Young Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), on the eve of her wedding to young Sky (Dominic Cooper), has decided that now is the time to figure out who her father is: It could be any one of three former lovers of her mother's, Donna (Meryl Streep). So she invites the men -- Bill (Stellan Skarsgaard), Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Harry (Colin Firth) -- to her wedding. Family reunion and happiness, Sophie assumes, will ensue: Mostly, in Catherine Johnson's book/script, it's wacky comedy of a brand that went out with Technicolor.

There's something a little creepy about the prospect of a young woman comtemplating in such intimate detail her mother's sex life -- particularly when it transpires that Sophie has stolen the diary her mother kept of the summer when Sophie was conceived. Sophie commences to ooh and ahh over Donna's descriptions of her romantic adventures. And later, when the men arrive on the island and enmesh themselves in the wedding preparations, there are moments when the movie seems to be debating with itself: Do Sophie's interactions with her potential fathers border on the incestuous?

Donna and her pals, Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), are spunky and spirited and wild, and Donna's men are charming and delicious. But there are temporal problems here: Donna is nowhere near young enough to have been the carefree child we're meant to believe she was when Sophie was carelessly conceived 20 years earlier. Somehow, her men span every era from the flower power of the '60s to the New Wave punk of the '80s. Sophie could well be anywhere from 20 to 40 years old. Which is patently absurd.

None of the nonsensicalness would matter if the movie would let me get caught up in it, but that hardly happened, much as I wished it would. I appreciate the particular Swedishness of its casual attitude toward sex and love and single motherhood, but the stagey phoniness of it all isn't helped by the fact that only Streep is up to the musical task at hand. Boy, can she sing! The youngsters are fine, of course, in that technically proficient but bloodless way of young singers, but the passion of the others -- Walters, Baranski, Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgaard -- gets lost in their struggles with the songs.

Whether it's worth two hours out of your life to see Streep sing her heart out depends on how in love with Streep you are, or want to be. (Rated PG-13)