May 12, 2005
Jane Fonda making a menopausal terror of herself should be funny. Jennifer Lopez playing a sun-ripened hippie artist who blows her cool should be funny. Fonda and Lopez, locking horns in the roles described above, should, theoretically, be quite funny.
Once again, theory fails us. The fact is, Fonda and Lopez make for a profoundly unfunny tandem in “Monster-in-Law,” a zestless, fumbling comedy about one woman who drags another through betrothal hell, and us along with her.
Lopez plays Charlotte “Charlie” Cantilini, which immediately augurs bad things to come, as whenever the actress plays a character with a butch-sounding nickname (e.g. Ricki in “Gigli” or Slim in “Enough”), the movie in question invariably promotes massive brain-cell loss.
Living alone in a cramped Santa Monica bungalow, Charlie is a confirmed dilettante who does a variety of odd jobs to support her vague artistic ambitions, including dog-walking, catering and reception at a doctor's office.
In director Robert Luketic's (“Legally Blonde”) brassy, light-headed universe, nothing could be more perfect and adorable than a career-challenged single gal who lives amid piles of clutter and gets daily unannounced visits from a snarky gay neighbor (Adam Scott) who raids her fridge and bemoans the fact she never gets laid.
For whatever reason, Charlie is irresistible to Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan from “Alias”), a handsome, well-behaved surgeon whose only recognizable personality trait is that he loves Charlie. Kevin is so smitten that he pops the question to his would-be bride during a lunch date with his mother, one-time network talk show legend Viola Fields (Fonda, in her first feature film role since “Stanley & Iris” in 1990).
Forcibly retired to make way for a younger woman, Viola is recovering from a nervous breakdown that has left her in a jittery, vulnerable mood.
When Charlie comes along to steal away Kevin — an only child whom Viola dotes over and pesters on the phone several times a day — the reluctant future mother-in-law slips into full attack mode, determined to sabotage the engagement.
Unfortunately, Fonda — owing to both inferior screenwriting and her own actorly cobwebs — delivers a performance that's forgettable.
It's only when Elaine Stritch, as a huffy dowager, and Wanda Sykes, as a sass-talking butler, are on-screen that “Monster-in-Law” is remotely funny or worthwhile. You know the reception is in trouble when the guests outshine the wedding party.