Director: Robert Luketic
Screenplay: Anya Kochoff
Stars: Jennifer Lopez (Charlie Cantilini), Jane Fonda (Viola Fields), Michael Vartan (Kevin Fields), Wanda Sykes (Ruby), Adam Scott (Remy), Annie Parisse (Morgan), Monet Mazur (Fiona), Elaine Stritch (Gertrude), Will Arnett (Kitt), Stephen Dunham (Dr. Chamberlain)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2005
Country: U.S.
Hanoi Jane ain’t got nothin’ on me!Once Jennifer Lopez’s Charlie, a beautiful, but unambitious temp worker, and her future mother-in-law, Viola, played with scene-chewing relish by Jane Fonda, start going head to head, Monster-in-Law is an enjoyable, if somewhat twisted, farce. Watching J. Lo and J. Fo, both known as off-screen divas, duke it out has a zesty kick to it, and both actresses dig into their respective positions with the kind of gusto that makes scenes almost work even when they’re not that funny.

It’s been 15 years since Jane Fonda has starred in a movie, and Monster-in-Law was an interesting choice to mark her return (although the cynic in me is screaming “Commercial!” and “Synergy!”), especially since she hasn’t acted in a comedic role since playing a sympathetic, but blundering secretary in 9 to 5 (1980). As in that movie, Fonda proves that she has a penchant for over-the-top comedy; despite second billing, Monster-in-Law belongs to her whenever she’s on screen. As the perennial battle axe with hair-salon-perfect coiffure, she throws temper tantrums, bawls her head off, casts dagger-sharp glares, and generally makes life miserable for everyone around her, especially her long-suffering assistant Ruby (Wanda Sykes), who brings equal amounts of weary support and crackerjack criticism.

Simply put, Viola is a nutcase, a former Barbara Walters-type TV personality who has just gotten out of a mental institution after having an on-air breakdown (the breakdown itself was precipitated by her being replaced by a hot young thing, but it was directly instigated by an interview with a vapid Britney Spears clone). The pleasure in Fonda’s performance is the way she stuffs an aging diva’s anger and bitterness behind a steely, faux-chipper resolve that you can see bulging at the seams. The introduction of Charlie, who Viola sees as far beneath her, is but one more catalyst to push her over the edge. And, when her adult son, who she refers to as “the brilliant surgeon,” proposes marriage right in front of her to Charlie, who she refers to as “the temp,” you can see Viola slide right off the edge.

Unfortunately, this part of the movie doesn’t kick in for a good 20 minutes. Until then, we are saddled with watching a dull, utterly predictable “meet cute” between Charlie and her future finance, Kevin (Michael Vartan), a surgeon who happens to be single and attracted to beautiful temp workers. Kevin is meant to be a dreamboat, but he’s a bore, which is why he all but disappears from the story once future mother- and daughter-in-law square off for battle. He is, as most guys are, clueless that his mother is a monster (he keeps saying, “I know she’s difficult, but ...”), which would be forgivable if he were more interesting otherwise.

Firsttime screenwriter Anya Kochoff and director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) would have done well to follow more closely in the footsteps of Meet the Parents (2000) and Guess Who?, two movies born of the same comedic DNA, and cut to the chase by having the couple already formed when the movie starts. The romance is not interesting; the catfights at least have some potential.

Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

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All images copyright ©2005 New Line Cinema

Overall Rating: (2)

James Kendrick

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