June 08, 1992 12:00 PM

Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith

Given the concept of Whoopi Goldberg in a nun’s habit, you might expect a few irreverent kicks from this Disney comedy. But—aside from round-faced Kathy (The Fisher King) Najimy, whose performance as a hyper-perky Carmelite suggests Saint Teresa of Avila with a case of cabin fever—Sister Act is as innocuously pleasant and ecumenical a crowd pleaser as the old Rosalind Russell convent-school charmer, The Trouble with Angels. This is either good or bad, depending on your feelings about the Vatican, American movie comedy and Goldberg, who is so amusing as the Columbo-like detective in The Player.

Here, as a Reno lounge singer who hides in a convent as part of a protection program after witnessing a gangland murder, Goldberg gives a brisk, no-nonsense performance that earns some laughs, whether with one of the good lines provided by a committee of writers (served a suitably humble supper, Goldberg grouses, “Is this a Pritikin order?”) or in her scenes conducting the awful convent chorus, which she refashions into a pop group. (The sisters’ swooning rendition of “I Will Follow Him”—”Him” meaning the big Him—is a high point.)

Sister Act’s one sin, really, is that the incomparable Maggie (A Room with a View) Smith, as the Mother Superior, has virtually nothing to do. Too bad, because she makes a swell-looking nun. Draped in her long dark robes, with a wimple bringing out the pinched anxiety of her sharp features, she looks something like a sea horse enduring a profound spiritual crisis. (PG)

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