Monster-In-Law

2005, Movie, PG-13, 102 mins

Review

MONSTER-IN-LAW
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Beneath the sugary surface, director Robert Luketic's insipid comedy is a curdled throwback to the bad old days of hoary, condescending gags about put-upon brides, awful in-laws and funny alkies that leaves a sour aftertaste. Charlotte "Charlie" Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez) is just about perfect — sweet, kind, beautiful, generous, hard-working, modest, creative and possessed of a complexion so dewy it seems to glow with a soft inner light. If she has a flaw, it's that she's so open to new experiences that she can't decide what to do with her life. Rich, devastatingly handsome surgeon Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) falls for her like a redwood, and the future looks rosy: He loves her, she loves him and her tough-minded best friends, Morgan (Annie Parisse) and Remy (Adam Scott), think he's to die for. There's only one cloud on this impossibly clear horizon, but it's a doozy: larger-than-life television personality Viola Fields (Jane Fonda), Kevin's glowering thunderhead of a mother, who's crackling with enough hostility to spark wildfires. Fresh out of a mental hospital after a spectacular on-air meltdown precipitated by the news that she was being replaced by a flibbertigibbet one third her age, Viola isn't about to see her only son waste himself on some hotsy-totsy professional temp. Kevin doesn't help the situation by popping the question to Charlie in front of Mom at their very first lunch together. Viola puts on her best high-wattage, welcome-to-the-family smile, but she's already scheming to drive Charlie away. Viola begins by feigning a debilitating anxiety attack so Kevin and Charlie will feel compelled to ask her to stay with them while she recuperates, and times it to coincide with Kevin's must-attend medical conference so Charlie will be on her own. She bullies, fakes marathon crying jags followed by manic chat fests, keeps Charlie up all night, leaves the kitchen looking like a war zone — but only so she could prepare a very special dinner for her darling daughter-in-law to-be — and threatens sweetly to buy a house just down the street so they'll be able to spend lots of time together. Fonda, who returned to movies after a 15-year absence only to find herself facedown in a plate of tripe, handles her on-screen humiliation with considerable grace. But this vapid, mean-spirited comedy is Lopez's show, and though she is utterly unconvincing as a paragon of down-to-earth virtues, the last laugh was hers from the outset. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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