Though the current iteration of Saturday Night Live is not the sketch-to-movie factory it once threatened to become, it’s still remarkable that Kenan Thompson could spend two full decades as a cast member—easily a show record—and not ever have one of his characters adapted for a feature film à la MacGruber, Wayne’s World, or The Blues Brothers.
Then again, Thompson might consider that box checked off, having achieved something rarer and stranger: He’s one of two guys who has ever toplined a movie based on an All That sketch. Only he and partner in shenanigans Kel Mitchell can truly understand the trajectory of appearing on Nickelodeon’s intended JV-level SNL that was really more of middle-school Carol Burnett Show, then jumping (however briefly) to the big screen for 1997’s Good Burger.
Perhaps the ultra-rarity of the Good Burger experience engendered deep loyalty in its star. Maybe Thompson appreciates the movie’s nostalgic appeal in retrospect. Or maybe he well and truly enjoyed himself making a deeply silly, not especially funny, but largely harmless movie in the era where Nickelodeon’s cinematic house style could be described as “goony nonsense where adults fall down,” marketed with the restraint and tastefulness of Gak. Whatever the reasons, a fully adult Kenan and Kel are back in Good Burger 2 (albeit not on movie screens; this is a Paramount+ streaming exclusive).
So many years have passed since the original that it’s a surprise to learn that Dexter (Thompson), the scheming straight man of this comic duo, is only mildly estranged from his unlikely best friend Ed (Mitchell), a space-case fast-food employee with the kind of exaggerated vocal affectation (in this case, sort of a guttural surfer-dude drawl) endemic to All That’s funny-voices brand of comedy. They haven’t seen each other for five or six years, during which Dexter has failed spectacularly as an entrepreneur, leaving him broke and turning to Ed for shelter as well as employment.
Ed’s manner remains blissfully unchanged: cheerful, whimsical, and prone to Amelia Bedelia-style literalisms of varying quality. At first, the rest of his life looks pretty similar to his teenage days, too; he still mans the counter at fast-food institution Good Burger, where he recites his famous catchphrase (“Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?”) with a sing-songy cadence, and annoys customers with his inability to understand simple requests. But it turns out that Ed now owns the restaurant and has a large, happy family, making the disturbing (if perhaps weirdly believable) implication that while Ed maintains a healthy sex life, effective use of contraception eludes him.
Dexter, on the other hand, has alienated his niece Mia (Kamaia Fairburn), a teenage Good Burger employee, by losing a bunch of his sister’s money years earlier. The performer playing Dexter’s sister is kept offscreen until the end of the movie, revealed as if unveiling a jaw-dropping surprise rather than yet another Saturday Night Live cast member doing a cameo.
Hardcore All That fans may be disappointed to find that there are far more SNL folks in this movie than Nickelodeon alumni, though Thompson’s old co-star Lori Beth Denberg does appear to reprise the iconic (?) walk-on character Connie Muldoon. (Her schtick? You guessed it, a funny voice!) At one point, the movie initiates an all-out cameo dump, when Dex and Ed imagine an all-star Good Burger benefit singalong, which allows various mildly interested parties to Zoom into the movie for a few seconds, their names helpfully captioned so you know you’re getting a certified Mikey Day appearance.
The occasion of this pipe dream is yet another bigger corporation threatening the existence of Good Burger. This time the nefarious MegaCorp (with reps played by Jillian Bell and Lil Rel Howery) wants to franchise the restaurant and turn it into a fully automated operation. The restaurant’s misfit employees must band together to stop it, maybe make sure the bad guys wind up sprayed with goop, that sort of thing. It would be a fine formula to juice with gags, if the movie had many good ones to spare. There are some goofy puns, non sequiturs, and absurdist jokes that land; Ed’s wife (SNL’s Ego Nwodim, shamefully confined to a single scene) is introduced as a “trapeze artist”... meaning that she paints pictures of trapezes.
The rest of the comedy is primarily listless reheating, and anyone looking for a visual hit of nostalgia may be disappointed. Director Phil Traill, who has made a lot of good TV and a couple of less-good movies like All About Steve, does not attempt to recreate a ’90s Nickelodeon aesthetic here. He just boosts the white levels to give Good Burger 2 the same antiseptic super-digital crispness that plagues lots of straight-to-streaming movies.
But the real letdown of Good Burger 2 is Thompson. His partner Mitchell seems understandably excited to be back in uniform. Thompson, though, has changed substantially since the first movie, when he was a generically mischievous kid-movie lead. (Ed is the character who actually anchored the original sketches).
His unprecedented time on SNL has honed his comic acting, at least on that show, to a kind of cartoon minimalism, where he can score big laughs from quick-hit mugging reactions. He used to do recurring characters; now he mostly just recurs his Kenan-ness, and his coasting can still kill. Good Burger 2 doesn’t know what to do with this, so it just has him point out the movie’s jokes, a straighter straight man than ever, complete with perfunctory redemption arc. It’s a vehicle for a would-be franchise, not the people actually appearing in it. If the original film was a padded-out comedy sketch, this one is no sketch and all padding.