Movie Review: 'Monster-In-Law'

EntertainmentCrime, Law and JusticeMoviesJuvenile DelinquencyCrimeTelevisionJennifer Lopez

2 stars (out of 4)

Jane Fonda may have been absent from the screen for 15 years, but she hasn't lost her skills, her fine, nervous touch for comedy or her radiant movie-star looks.

In "Monster-in-Law," at 67, Fonda makes a stunning comeback of sorts, winning us over even though her vehicle is so shaky it seems constantly ready to collapse under her. Perhaps the challenge of trying to energize mediocrity is just what she needed after her inactive years.

Here, Fonda plays Viola Fields, a superstar TV interviewer in the Barbara Walters mode who goes psycho first at work and then at home when she finds that her surgeon son Kevin (Michael Vartan of TV's "Alias" ) is marrying a sweet young lower-class gal, Charlie Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez).

Determined to delay or derail Kevin's march to the altar with anything short of murder (but not far short), Viola tries everything on Charlie, including humiliating her socially, spying on her, assassinating her character, becoming dictator of the wedding, sabotaging her wardrobe with flouncy peach-colored dresses and even poisoning her with her known allergy, almonds.

It's not a very smart plan of action, but then, this isn't a very smart movie, rattling along as it does in the bright, superficial, meaninglessly expert way of too many modern romantic comedies--and definitely of too many Jennifer Lopez comedies. We'll be charitable and forget "Gigli." But "Monster-in-Law" can't forget either "Maid in Manhattan" or "The Wedding Planner," other "Cinderella" Lopez comedies that look like TV perfume commercials, with acting to match.

Lopez shows commendable generosity, however, in helping showcase her co-star; the movie is handed on a platinum platter to Fonda. So why couldn't first-time screenwriter Anya Kochoff have been generous with Lopez instead of turning Charlie into the oxymoronic boring free spirit--a nice, cunning romantic lead in tight pants with a supposedly "perfect guy" fiance who seems more of a stubble-faced pretty-boy doofus?

I wasn't rooting for this couple, or for the alternative either: some kind of sentimental rapprochement between Charlie and Viola. The movie isn't mean enough to deliver the satiric goods, and Charlie is too much of a sweetie-pie to match Viola's black-widow killer fury. When she finally tumbles to Viola's level and starts retaliating, it still isn't much fun.

What it is is relentlessly light . When "Monster-in-Law's" star actresses slap each other late in the movie, the scene has a hint of big-star high jinks, as if two of the Three Tenors were high-fiving between arias. And besides Fonda, only Wanda Sykes (as Viola's assistant/court jester Ruby) seems to enjoy her lines, perhaps because she gets to insult everyone. (I kept wishing she'd let loose on the script.) When the acid-tongued Elaine Stritch shows up briefly as Viola's mother-in-law, we get to see what a viciously funny free-for-all it all could have been.

Director Robert Luketic made Reese Witherspoon's "Legally Blonde," the superficial but often enjoyable comedy about California sorority girls and snobbish Ivy League law schools. This movie is more superficial and less enjoyable (though still a cut above Luketic's idiotic second film, "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton"). This breezy Australian director keep things bouncing along, but the screenplay--with its syrupy romance and sitcom-style humor--keeps crashing it to Earth.

For example, Viola, a network superstar, is being replaced by a vacuous-looking young interviewer who's thrilled to meet her predecessor; afterwards, Viola goes crazy on camera, trying to strangle an even more vacuous Britneyesque teen queen star who thinks "Roe v. Wade" was a heavyweight title fight. That's about as good as the humor here gets.

It would take the dark wit of a Billy Wilder or a Coen brother--or at least a Neil Simon--to put across this kind of material. But despite everything, Fonda makes the movie special, playing Viola as nasty as she can, . providing acid contrast to the otherwise sugary proceedings. mwilmington@tribune.com

"Monster-in-Law"

Directed by Robert Luketic; written by Anya Kochoff; photographed by Russell Carpenter; edited by Scott Hill, Kevin Tent; production designed by Missy Stewart; art director, James F. Truesdale; music by David Newman; produced by Paula Weinstein, Chris Bender, JC Spink. A New Line Cinema release of a Benderspink/Spring Creek production; opens Friday. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sex references and language).

Charlie Cantilini - Jennifer Lopez
Viola Fields - Jane Fonda
Kevin Fields - Michael Vartan
Ruby - Wanda Sykes
Remy - Adam Scott
Gertrude - Elaine Stritch
Fiona - Monet Mazur

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentCrime, Law and JusticeMoviesJuvenile DelinquencyCrimeTelevisionJennifer Lopez
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