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"Monster-in-Law" Movie Review

In the Battle Between J-Lo and J-Fo, The Audience is the Loser

By

Jane Fonda Jennifer Lopez

Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez star in "Monster-in-Law"

© New Line Cinema
Jennifer Lopez goes toe-to-toe with Jane Fonda in the mean-spirited comedy, “Monster-in-Law.” Directed by Robert Luketic (“Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!”) and co-starring Michael Vartan, “Monster-in-Law’s” one joke premise is so disconnected from reality that it’s next to impossible to find anything to laugh at in this silly sitcom-ish movie.

Lopez stars as Charlie, a temp worker who does everything from walking dogs to helping her best friend’s catering business to filling in as a receptionist in a medical office. Or was it a dentist office? I can’t remember – and it doesn’t matter anyway. The point is she’s a temp worker who seems a bit ditzy, acts too young for her age, and is unbelievably lucky in that she bumps into the same handsome, successful, single doctor (Vartan as ‘Dr Kevin Fields’) three separate times over the course of a few days.

Fonda returns to films as Viola Fields, the good doctor’s doting mom. Ms. Fields was a respected TV news anchor until she got the boot in order to make room for a newer, younger model. Viola took the news hard (she went ballistic and attacked a Britney Spears clone during her farewell interview) and ended up in a loony bin. After convincing the staff she was no longer a danger to pop stars, Viola was allowed to return home in the care of her longtime assistant, Ruby (Wanda Sykes).

The now unemployed Viola finds she has plenty of time on her hands to manipulate her son. Meanwhile, said son decides to – after a short, whirlwind romance – ask Charlie for her hand in marriage. Viola doesn’t take the news well and immediately embarks on a campaign to tear the two apart. No bad deed is off limits in Viola’s quest to rid her son of Charlie. From keeping Charlie up all night by talking her ear off to usurping all the wedding planning duties to chopping up nuts to make the allergic Charlie swell up like SpongeBob, Viola gets the monster-in-law label the hard way – she earns it.

More amazing than the fact J-Lo seems to keep getting cast in this type of role is the fact Jane Fonda came out of retirement to star in this dull piece of fluff. There’s nothing appealing about either character and nothing special about the dialogue, so it’s hard to figure out why Fonda felt this would make a good comeback film.

In all fairness to Jennifer Lopez, her acting may be worse than usual because she’s asked to play such a badly defined character. After convincing the audience she’s a sweet, albeit naïve, young woman, she suddenly transforms into Viola Jr, taking on her future mother-in-law and dishing out as good as she gets. Which is an interesting switch, if it would have in any way seemed like it was in her character's make-up. Whether she’s playing it as the victim or the aggressor, Lopez just can’t hold her own against an over-the-top Fonda and what might have looked liked comical exchanges between the two on page, end up being just plain nasty in the movie.

The only real saving grace is Wanda Sykes. It’s almost worth sitting through the Fonda vs. Lopez scenes just to watch Sykes work with Fonda. The two are great together. In fact, their shared scenes make you wish their relationship was the central focus of the film rather than the ‘let’s kill the future daughter-in-law’ storyline.

Michael Vartan’s apparently in “Monster-in-Law” to serve as eye candy. As the man at the center of the storm, “Alias” co-star Vartan’s talent is completely wasted. He was terrific as Drew Barrymore’s love interest in “Never Been Kissed” and has proven he can handle the part of the adorable boyfriend. But he’s barely in the film before he’s sent off to a doctor’s convention or some sort of set-up to allow Fonda and Lopez’ characters time alone together.

It’s possible there’s a good comedy buried somewhere in the premise of the film, but what ended up on the screen is more unpleasant than funny. I may have laughed once or twice over the course of the film, but I’m positive I uttered the phrase “Give me a break” more often than that.

GRADE: C-

"Monster-in-Law" was directed by Robert Luketic and is rated PG -13 for sex references and language.

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