I can visualize the pitch meeting for "Monster-in-Law": "It's a female version of "Meet the Parents," with Jennifer Lopez as Ben Stiller and Jane Fonda as Robert DeNiro!" And since neither of its stars has been burning up the box office latelyLopez hasn't had a big hit since The Wedding Planner, and Fonda's been off the big screen for 15 years--I can understand the appeal of a lightweight commercial vehicle. But did it have to be something THIS witless and unoriginal?
Monster-in-Law's opening scenes play out the like the pilot for a bad sitcom. Within the first 20 minutes, we've seen Lopez, as Charlotte "Charlie" Cantilini, handle multiple odd-jobs (including dog-walker, isn't THAT quirky), toured her movie-set-funky apartment, and met her obligatory offbeat friends (including, yes, the gay neighbor who enters her place without knocking). And just when it seems impossible for screenwriter Anya Kochoff to stack the clichés any higher, Charlie has not one, not two, but three Meet Cutes with hunky doctor Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan).True love blooms, Kevin proposes, Charlie accepts.
Enter Fonda as Kevin's mother Viola, a TV interviewer (think Barbara Walters on steroids) with problems of her ownin her first two scenes, she loses her job and has an on-camera meltdown while interviewing a Britney Spears-ish pop star. Presumably, this is to make Viola a tad sympathetic, a mother who has nothing going for her except her son, which makes her all the more neurotic at the prospect of "losing" him.
But even by comedy standards, it takes a huge suspension of disbelief to think Viola's career is overif Geraldo Rivera can work at network after network after all his gaffes, is there any doubt Viola would have a raft of job offers heading her way? And if Viola simply can't handle her son sharing his life with another woman, why does she keep trying to set him up with a catty former flame? (Lest the uber-Waspish Viola's campaign against Charlie be interpreted as racism, the filmmakers have cast Wanda Sykes as her assistant/confidante.)
The movie clunks and thumps from one comic set piece to the next, punctuated by a ham-handed score by David Newman which underscores every punchline and hijink with cues more suitable for a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Vartan does what little he can with the film's most thankless role, but Kochoff's script makes Kevin little more than a MacGuffin with abs, a device to get the plot rolling and nothing else. By the end of the film, Kevin seems so utterly clueless, it's a wonder either of the women in his life want anything to do with him. Sykes fares a bit betterunlike Vartan, her character at least has an inkling of what's going on.
The leading ladies certainly seem like good sportsFonda plops her face into a plate of tripe, Lopez makes a joke about her much-discussed derriereand every so often, they display enough star power to make us believe they're playing characters and not caricatures. The rest of the time, however, the actresses seem content to go through the motions and cash their checks. The starsand their fansdeserve better than this.