I'm nowhere near ready to join Mr. Ebert on the J-Lo bandwagon (with her entourage, there might not be room), but I will defend the starlet's turn in Monster-In-Law. The film embraces the traditional romantic comedy formula Lopez routinely gravitates toward, but it's skillfully guided to a predetermined finish by director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde), who kneads the doughy concoction like a prize-winning baker preparing a four-layer cake.
Monster also marks the anticipated return of Jane Fonda. Fifteen years after her last screen role in Stanley & Iris, Fonda wears the title role of Viola Fields, a celebrated television journalist who shifts into an irregular gear when her only son, Kevin (Michael Vartan), announces his engagement to Charlotte "Charlie" Cantilini (Lopez).
Perhaps Fonda burst out of self-imposed exile because she connected with Viola's manic traits. Or perhaps she simply grew tired of watching her peers find new niche audiences with Meet the Parents and its sequel and rationally thought, "Why not me?" Either way, the two-time Oscar winner juices the proceedings as she plans to sabotage the lovey-dovey couple by exploiting their differences. Viola fakes a mental breakdown, and Charlie agrees to care for her while Kevin attends an out-of-town medical conference. It's Luketic's way of shuffling Vartan out of frame so Fonda and Lopez have ample room to lock horns.
Monster surprises us because it contains few original quirks but still manages to entertain. The film is loaded with genre standards: the cute meeting, the mistaken gay vibe, the quirky best friend (Adam Scott), the sarcastic buddy (Will Arnett), and a feisty black assistant (Wanda Sykes in a show-stealing supporting part).
So why am I smiling so much? Assorted differences help pull the picture over the hump. Screenwriter Anya Kochoff slips some inspired jokes amongst the predictable situations. A peanut allergy gag, set up and executed to perfection, scores laughs equal to Cameron Diaz's hair gel mistake from There's Something About Mary. You can never have too many Britney Spears spoofs, as Monster proves. And Sykes - admittedly trapped in a limiting, somewhat offensive racial profile - breaks off a number of hilarious lines as Viola's unfiltered voice of reason, Ruby. It's Sykes' most accessible role since Pootie Tang. Can New Line blurb that for a poster?
As for Lopez, she once again benefits from sharing the spotlight with an equally sharp adversary. The actress can honestly volley with a competent partner, such as George Clooney in Out of Sight. She just doesn't generate enough warmth when forced to go it alone. Remember her ill-fated pairing with Ralph Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan, Jim Caviezel in the dreary Angel Eyes, or Ben Affleck in Jersey, Gigli, and their own failed relationship? In Monster, J-Lo and J-Fo are a marriage made in Hollywood heaven.
Where would you like the Lopez?
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th May 2005
Box Office USA: $82.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $154.7M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: New Line Cinema, Bender-Spink Inc., Avery Pix, Avery Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
Fresh: 26 Rotten: 137
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Robert Luketic
Screenwriter: Anya Kochoff
Starring: Jennifer Lopez as Charlie Cantillini, Jane Fonda as Viola Fields, Michael Vartan as Kevin Fields, Wanda Sykes as Ruby, Adam Scott as Remy, Monet Mazur as Fiona, Annie Parisse as Morgan, Will Arnett as Kit, Elaine Stritch as Gertrude, Stephen Dunham as Dr. Chamberlain, Harriet Sansom Harris as Therapist