Monster-in-Law (May 8/05)
As snarky as it sounds, there's no getting around the fact that Jane Fonda probably should have stayed retired (the actress emerged from a 15-year sabbatical for this?)
Fonda stars as Viola Fields, a Barbara Walters-esque journalist who's having an extremely bad week. On top of losing her job to a much younger woman, Viola has just discovered that her brain surgeon son, Kevin (Michael Vartan), is dating a temp named Charlotte (Jennifer Lopez). Because she believes that Kevin is far too good for someone like Charlotte, Viola embarks on a mission to break the pair up - leading to a series of supposed comedic vignettes in which Viola makes Charlotte's life a living hell.
Monster-in-Law is, for a little while, fairly engaging, primarily due to the genuine chemistry between Lopez and Vartan. The film's opening half hour - which features Charlotte and Kevin meeting and subsequently falling in love - is surprisingly effective, and both Lopez and Vartan are quite good in their roles (Vartan, in particular, delivers a performance that's oozing with charm). It's only when Fonda's character is introduced that the film starts its slow but steady descent downhill, eventually becoming an interminable and seemingly neverending experience.
That Monster-in-Law is entertaining even for a little while is somewhat surprising, given the massive amount of cliches and stock characters included within Anya Kochoff's screenplay. In terms of the latter, the film's supporting cast is populated with characters that would undoubtedly feel right at home in a sitcom (ie Charlotte's annoying but omnipresent neighbor, Kevin's slutty, vixenish ex-girlfriend, etc). Similarly, Fonda's Viola is the sort of person that could only exist in a silly comedy like this; though it's made clear that she doesn't like Charlotte because of her social standing, Viola's increasingly absurd tactics designed to drive her future daughter-in-law away stretch the limits of believability almost immediately. Of course, were any of this funny, it'd be easy enough to ignore the film's less-than-credible vibe (Fonda's grating, over-the-top performance certainly doesn't help matters). And then there's the conclusion, which is presumably meant to come off as heartwarming but instead feels forced and artificial.
As a romantic comedy, Monster-in-Law could've worked; Vartan and Lopez make a convincing couple, and it's hard not to root for their relationship to succeed. But because that aspect of the film is generally pushed aside in favor of the Viola vs. Charlotte stuff (which is uniformly moronic and insulting), there's very little here worth embracing.