U.S. Release Date: May 13, 2005
Distributor: New Line
Director: Robert Luketic
Producer: Chris Bender, J.C. Spink
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda, Adam Scott
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sex references and language)

Mixed Meows in Star Catfight
by Scott Holleran

If anyone can make watching Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez scratch at one another fun, it's director Robert Luketic, who directed the bright Legally Blonde and the light romantic comedy Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! His cheerful sensibilities lift the clunky Monster-in-Law higher than its vapid script deserves, but it is not enough.

Pasting slapstick on a Meet the Parents premise, Luketic tones down the gross humor and plays to his strengths, spinning a catfight into a lively southern California setting, beginning with Lopez's Santa Monica beach booty. Her character makes ends meet by walking dogs, waitressing and working in a doctor's office. While the multitasking is supposed to come off as flighty, it seems industrious, which begs the question why any mother wouldn't welcome such a productive daughter-in-law.

A couple of chance encounters lead Lopez to Michael Vartan as a scruffy doctor. He successfully woos her and then pops in and out of the movie for brief spells, so it is never clear that, much less why, the bride and groom are a match. Vartan's scenes with Lopez have as much romance as a paper clip.

Worse, Vartan is a mama's boy, which undercuts why tank-tough Lopez tolerates him. Mama Fonda, whom Luketic wisely lets rip as a frazzled, Beverly Hills career woman on the skids, is a cinch for Luketic's breezy style though she tries too hard. As the broadcast fluff type who drinks too much, Fonda's as close to fabulous as she's going to get. After learning that her son the doctor is about to wed what she considers is beneath him, she trots out every trick in the book, from faking illness to outright treachery, to outflank luscious Lopez.

Wanda Sykes fits the movie's best role as Fonda's croaky assistant, delivering the easiest lines with fresh, zippy sarcasm, having fun at good sport Fonda's expense. When Vartan is called out of town, Fonda makes her move, pretending to bless the union while scheming to make Lopez run from the altar with wild tactics after moving into their home. Luketic moves the story along, catching an updraft for smooth sailing here and there. A second wind blows in when Lopez fights back and at the wedding, courtesy of the underused Elaine Stritch, a grand dame if there ever was one. Vartan and others are stuck in clipped roles that neither breathe nor serve their purpose.

Lighter than air Monster-in-Law has a honeymoon on Lopez, Fonda and Sykes, and Robert Luketic knows how to have a good time even when the screenplay doesn't let him. Yet, besides the weak script, the slap happiness has a hitch. Fonda, who hasn't played leading lady since Stanley and Iris 15 years ago, is an unremarkable presence in her return to the screen, Lopez is a bit long in the tooth for pigtails, and, while seeing them go at it has juice, the showdown still reeks of Hanoi Jane versus J. Lo in the ring. Saddled with an empty script and two stars with more baggage than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, Monster-in-Law calls it a draw.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
New Line's double disc DVD package for Monster-in-Law is appropriate for the movie's light approach, with an emphasis on the stars and a fluff piece about director Robert Luketic, who provides audio commentary with supporting actress Wanda Sykes, producer Chris Bender, production designer Missy Stewart and photography director Russell Carpenter. Luketic reveals that he had wanted to cast Jane Fonda in Legally Blonde.

Despite being Miss Fonda's comeback picture, there is no printed booklet—viewers have to guess at running times, too—and biographical information is limited to peppered references to Miss Fonda's Klute prostitute character and her title sex kitten role in Barbarella.

A 15-minute piece on Luketic is the highlight here. Other bits on Lopez, Vartan and Miss Fonda are barely five minutes a pop and amount to outtakes. The features disc includes a funny gag reel—with the Best Actress Oscar winner for Klute and Coming Home yelling during a wrestling scene that she's popped out of her dress—and, of seven deleted scenes, one between the Sykes and Lopez characters is particularly good. The format does make it easier to appreciate some of the movie's assets—great photography, costumes, designs—in a more intimate setting.

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