Is there anything Meryl Streep can't do?
"Mamma Mia!" (*** out of four) is worth the ticket price just to see her belt it out, jump up and down on a bed, dance in platform shoes and slide down a banister. She not only can carry a tune, but her version of the overwrought The Winner Takes It All is surprisingly moving. Her chemistry with co-star Pierce Brosnan is palpable. Streep and the rest of the cast appear to be having the time of their lives.
That's not to say everyone will like this movie. Since the '70s, the Swedish quartet ABBA and its frothy, sometimes insipid, pop tunes have drawn virulent detractors. But this "moviecal" is surprisingly enjoyable, whether or not you've seen the musical.
The story is not "Mamma Mia!'"s strong suit. The tale of a 20-year-old girl searching for her father on the eve of her wedding is paper-thin.
It's best not to pay too much attention to the minimal plot and especially the time frame, which doesn't compute. Donna (Streep) supposedly was a footloose and fancy-free hippie when she became pregnant with her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). She was in a band that fused disco and glitter-rock fashion styles. (Her now-middle-aged bandmates are played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski.) Her suitors were a hippie (Brosnan), a punkish headbanger (Colin Firth) and a free-spirited Swedish adventurer (Stellan Skarsgard).
These cultural indicators would point to Donna and the guys having their successive romances during a summer in the 1970s. But if her daughter is 20, they would have had their flings in 1988, well after the era of hippies, disco and glitter rock.
But logic is unnecessary to savor "Mamma Mia!" Escapist and fun, it never takes itself too seriously. The self-mocking choreography — old-country villagers singing backup or silly- looking beach boys prancing around in colorful swim fins —strikes just the right tone.
The good-natured silliness is contagious. When Streep runs singing through a Greek village, it's like a spirited homage to "The Sound of Music." It also gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a Greek chorus.
The movie isn't likely to draw large audiences of youthful fans. Think of this as chick-flick counterprogramming to "Hellboy II." When all is said and done, it's worth taking a chance on "Mamma Mia!"
(Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Rating: PG-13 for some sex-related comments. Opens in select theaters Thursday night and nationwide Friday.)