'Sister Act': THR's 1992 Review
On May 29, 1992, Touchstone Pictures unveiled the Whoopi Goldberg comedy Sister Act in theaters, where it went on to be a summer hit and grossed $139 million stateside, not adjusted for inflation. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
It's hard to predict how God will react to the abundantly irreverent humor, but mere mortal filmgoers will delight in, and flock to, this well-tailored Whoopi Goldberg starrer.
Though Sister Act's premise is about a woman who witnesses a murder, this PG comedy is aimed at both kids and adults, and has enough laughs targeted at each group to keep everybody happy.
It's a high-concept idea plugged into a formulaic execution, but this formula has often proved to be tried and true and it doesn't fail here. The Whoopi crowd will just eat it up and Sister Act may make converts out of the rest of the public. The film's heavenly expectations at the box office should be fulfilled. Hallelujah!
Whoopi plays Deloris, the lead singer of a Supremes-type lounge act currently lulling them in Reno. Her boyfriend, Vince (Harvey Keitel), is a murdering mobster who is afraid he'll be damned to hell if he leaves his wife.
Sick and tired of wasting her time, Deloris quits the group and is about to do the same to Vince when she accidentally witnesses one of Vince's goons kill a guy. Whoops!
Deloris escapes and goes to the cops, where Lt. Eddie Souther (Bill Nunn) decides to secretly keep her on wraps in a convent until the trial. It's probably the last place Vince would think to look for his foul-mouthed, Catholic school dropout ex-girlfriend.
It's also the last place Deloris wants to be. And the stern Reverend Mother (as always, flawlessly played by Maggie Smith) doesn't make it any easier for Sister Goldberg.
But then — surprise, surprise — Deloris starts to fit in, revamps the once-awful church choir into a boogie-woogie act, cleans up the neighborhood, saves the church and teaches the Pope how to break dance. Only kidding about that last part, but you get the idea.
It's all pretty predictable, and if there was time you might get pissed off at the ridiculousness of it all. But things move at such a quickened pace, and the comedic timing of all involved is impressive enough to override the structural flaws.
Goldberg offers much comic relief as the acerbic nun, a part that seems to have been written expressly for her. And since the credits say nothing to the contrary we have to assume that's really her singing, and she's pretty damn good! She's obviously having fun playing a singing nun and it's contagious.
Apparently, there is no role that Maggie Smith can't play to perfection. She does so much with so little effort, that we can't help but smile in admiration every joyous moment she's on screen.
Sister Act isn't hard to follow, and it's easy to take. The funny songs may cause some very religious people to squirm while they laugh, but they will laugh. — Jeff Menell, originally published May 18, 1992.