Film review: Mamma Mia!

MAMMA MIA! (12A) Director: Phyllida Lloyd Running time: 108 minutes **

LIFE – to quote Toni Collette in Muriel's Wedding – can be "as good as an Abba song" but the clunky transfer of Mamma Mia! from stage to screen proves that it can be just as awful as 'Dum Dum Diddle' too.

Certainly even the most rabid Abba fan will find their commitment tested by the three levels of singing ability on show in this film. Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried are justly confident of their vocal gifts, while Colin Firth and Julie Walters acquit themselves pretty painlessly. But there's a special place in hell waiting for Pierce Brosnan, whose lethal rendition of 'SOS' allows us to hear how Bond would have sounded if it was Brosnan rather than Daniel Craig being beaten on the testicles in Casino Royale.

The big screen also exposes Mamma Mia!'s systematic plotting between numbers: Sophie (Seyfried) lives on a sunny, carefree Greek island and is soon to be married to the perpetually shirt-free Sky (Dominic Cooper), which takes care of 'I Do, I Do, I Do'. She dearly wants to know the identity of her father ('I Have A Dream'), and after reading her mother's diary secretly invites the three suspects to her wedding.

Meanwhile, Sophie's mother Donna (Meryl Streep) works all night and day to pay the bills, while preparing to welcome her two old pals from her defunct band, Donna and the Dynamos (hammy Julie Walters and Christine Baranski), so they can have a girly time reminiscing about their days as dancing queens. So imagine her shocked reaction when she discovers her three old flames hiding out in her barn ('Mamma Mia!').

By now you'll deduce that every plot turn is designed to shoehorn in as many Abba anthems as possible – although some do escape Catherine Johnson's literal cues. You can understand why she didn't want to touch 'Bang-a-Boomerang', but audiences have to wait for the end credits before the massive Eurovision hit 'Waterloo' cranks up as a garish cabaret routine, rather than, say, a cast trip by Eurostar to the London rail station. And while you might hear the drums, you won't hear 'Fernando'.

Along with the question of who is Sophie's dad, Mamma Mia! has other challenges for the audience, such as stage director Phyllida Lloyd's striking lack of film flair. In the big dance numbers she interrupts her far-too-long shots with fluttery close-ups that foster confusion rather than dynamic exuberance, and the comic moments feel forced even though Colin Firth gamely steps up to the plate a couple of times. Awful too is an overwrought version of 'Winner Takes It All' where Streep is allowed to emote on a clifftop as if signing to the deaf on a neighbouring island.

With Streep, Baranski and Walters singing into hairbrushes, playing dress-up and bouncing on beds, Mamma Mia! makes no bones about targeting itself at ageing baby boomers looking for a nostalgic night out. This is the kind of film you might take your mum's friend to, the one who is getting a divorce but isn't handling it too well – a point reinforced by Sophie's three possible dads, who come in the rugged forms of Brosnan, Firth and, er, Stellan Skarsgrd.

I like and admire Skarsgrd as an actor, but when casting middle-aged male totty to appear alongside Mr Darcy and James Bond, the actor who played a mollusc-encrusted Bootstrap Bill in Pirates Of The Caribbean is like a dreamboat with no sails. Without being too unkind, I'm guessing that Liam Neeson told them he was busy.

• On general release from Friday