There’s no silence quieter than the one in a movie theater during a bad comedy. At times during Mother’s Day, director Garry Marshall’s newest debasement of a beloved holiday, a hush fell over the audience to rival the quietude at a Benedictine monastery. When the laughter finally came, it was always at the movie’s expense. This disaster is less intentionally funny than the last movie titled Mother’s Day, and that was a violent horror film.

In keeping with the format of Marshall’s Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day imagines a universe in which every human being on the planet is connected and no one is particularly witty. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is divorced from Henry (Timothy Olyphant), who’s just gotten remarried to a younger woman (Shay Mitchell). Sandy’s friend Jesse (Kate Hudson) is married to Russell (Aasif Mandvi) and lives next door to her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke), who’s a lesbian; both keep their domestic lives secret from their mother Flo (Margo Martindale) because she is a racist and a homophobe.

There’s also Jason Sudeikis as a widower trying to be a good dad to his two daughters after the death of his wife (Jennifer Garner in a cameo), Julia Roberts as a Home Shopping Network personality, and Britt Robertson as an unwed mother who refuses to marry her aspiring standup comedian baby daddy (Jack Whitehall) because she has abandonment issues. This is made clear in the scene where she loudly announces “I have abandonment issues!” in a public park full of kids. As you do.

The characters in Mother’s Day have a habit of making strange pronouncements like that, often while offscreen. (A good 30 percent of the dialogue is spoken by people who aren’t on camera, the result of post-production audio dubbing done in a desperate attempt to punch up the limp screenplay.) But then so much of Mother’s Day is a collection of the strange and the bizarre. What to make of the scene where Timothy Olyphant silently contemplates a glazed donut as if he’s never seen one before in his entire life? Or the car chase involving a giant parade float shaped like a uterus and vagina? Or the character who holds a book signing (not at a bookstore, mind you), asking each fan “Who do I make this out to?” until one walks up and dramatically announces “Your daughter!!!

Isolated moments will haunt viewers for the rest of their lives. Nothing will erase the image of Flo bemoaning her grandson’s dark skin, or her redneck husband Earl (Robert Pine) delivering a large portion of his dialogue while chomping on a chicken bone. There’s a scene where a child walks up to a karaoke machine and goes “Wow!” and another girl says “Do you know what this is?” and she cheerfully replies “No!” (Why was she so excited if she didn’t know what it was?!?) There are numerous sequences set in a comedy club where Jon Lovitz wanders around holding a dog and Jack Whitehall tells awful jokes while holding a baby, and the audience onscreen laughs hysterically because there is nothing funnier in this world than when a man holds something. There are several “shocking” twists, none more staggering than the revelation that Jason Sudeikis’ bumbling, awkward, soccer dad gym owner was previously a United States Marine. He may be the least credible member of the Armed Forces in any movie since Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now.

There’s an astonishing array of talent on display here, all of it wasted. Julia Roberts mostly hawks tacky jewelry. Aasif Mandvi gets racially profiled by cops while wearing a woman’s bathrobe. Jason Sudeikis demonstrates his character’s emotional growth by singing “The Humpty Dance.” Jennifer Aniston sulks through the entire film until a clown (yes, a clown) inspires her to turn her life around by comparing his bottomless hanky to “the bottomless love a mother feels for her children.” No, really.

Before he decided to become the movie director version of the Batman villain Calendar Man, Garry Marshall created and produced some of the greatest television shows ever. But Marshall’s old magic touch is nowhere in evidence here. As a comedy, this is an unmitigated disaster. As a fever dream of nonsensical non sequiturs, it might be a secret masterpiece.


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