on May 13, 2005 by Wade Major
It's not quite the third coming of Jane Fonda, but "Monster-in-Law," for all its comedic obviousness and predictable plotting, does give the 67-year-old actress a better-than-expected vehicle with which to emerge from her 15-year hiatus. The comedy is broad and the story is too clumsily calculated to maximize its star power, but the teaming of Fonda and Jennifer Lopez, if not inspired, is good enough to at least partially mask the script's myriad flaws.

Lopez stars as Charlotte "Charlie" Cantillini, an impossibly cute girl-next-door/jack-of-all-tasks whose whirlwind courtship and romance with handsome young doctor Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) is put to the ultimate test after their engagement raises the hackles of his famously egotistical mother, superstar television journalist Viola Fields (Fonda). Still reeling from being replaced at the network by a younger and markedly less talented tart, Viola is already on the verge of a breakdown when news of the engagement pushes her into the abyss. The thought of her son taking up with some kind of common, free-spirited floozy being simply too much to handle, she begins working, with utmost deviousness, to methodically sabotage the relationship, striking several potentially crushing blows before Charlie gets hip to the scheme and retaliates in kind.

The plot particulars should be familiar to just about anyone with an average pop culture IQ -- it's "The War of the Roses"-lite, transmogrified into an in-law catfight. Fonda's over-the-top, scenery-chewing turn makes no sense from a character point of view -- even if one assumes extreme psychosis or mental instability -- but as it's the only thing in the film that generates any kind of energy or, for that matter, entertainment value, it's easy to be forgiving. At the same time, it's hard to watch Fonda and not picture Kathleen Turner or Candice Bergen handling the part with greater finesse. Much of what Fonda is doing here, in fact, seems to directly draw on Turner's performances in the aforementioned "The War of the Roses" and "Serial Mom" and just about everything that Bergen has done since television's "Murphy Brown," a character on which Viola seems at least partially based. The Lopez-Fonda-Vartan axis in particular bears a striking resemblance to the Reese Witherspoon-Candice Bergen-Patrick Dempsey relationship from "Sweet Home Alabama."

In the end, though, it's Fonda who has to make the part work, and work it she does, almost making one forget how little else there is going on in the picture. Vartan's an unremarkable leading man and Lopez seems once again in romantic-comedy cruise control, recycling her "Maid in Manhattan" and "Wedding Planner" characters with little deviation. Even director Robert Luketic, so creative in energizing "Legally Blonde" and the underrated "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!," seems to simply be going through the motions, as though the novelty of Fonda's first film in nearly a generation should be enough to sustain the picture. Apart from Fonda, only Wanda Sykes, as Viola's wise-ass assistant Ruby, seems able to churn the clich├ęs into anything memorable, though it's obvious that most of her best lines -- essentially the best lines in the movie -- are Sykes' own ad-libs. Starring Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Vartan, Wanda Sykes and Elaine Stritch. Directed by Robert Luketic. Written by Anya Kochoff. Produced by Paula Weinstein, Chris Bender and JC Spink. A New Line release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for sex references and language. Running time: 102 min

Tags: No Tags

read all Reviews »


No comments were posted.

What do you think?