The spawn of Hollywood professionals responsible for Barbra Streisand’s Yentl and the designed mediocrity of Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, Monster-In-Law fully lives up to its lineage. Snaring Jane Fonda from retirement for reasons obscure, it mainly proves that Jennifer Lopez can do nothing that could be accused of competence, and is now in the possession of a disturbingly hypertrophied neck to accompany her iconic rear.
Otherwise, Jenny-From-the-Block is dead, killed by Lopez’s ambition to become the new, perkier Meg Ryan, albeit a Ryan with a voice that’s pure Bettie Boop, her Bronx accent neutered by line readings redolent of a foreigner speaking English phonetically.
Monster deals with a talk-show host named Viola (Fonda) who loses her show after attacking a tween queen on prime time. Meanwhile, Lopez plays Charlie, a dog walker for the super-rich, who falls for Viola’s son, brilliant surgeon Kevin (Michael Vartan).
Charlie and Kevin plan to get married. Viola freaks at her boy marrying a girl like Charlie (class and race frissons are implied, assumed uproarious, and only once coyly addressed). So Viola goes about driving Charlie crazy with the assistance of her hen-pecked Negro womanservant, Ruby (Wanda Sykes), who’s always sayin’ sassy things ’bout her lady, ’cuz you know how black folks is. Then J-Lo tries to drive Jane crazy. Apply we’re-more-alike-than-we-think happy ending to end of Act 3 and fade.
In between, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Win a Date) indulges his older star’s worst Type A personality tendencies, while both his moneymakers slug each other in the face as often as possible. Punch lines are punctuated with shrieks of “bitch,” “slut,” and so on; in another sequence, Jane poisons J-Lo, causing her lips to swell up. One might say the humor is coarse.
But back to Lopez. How bad is she? She cannot sleep convincingly. When she’s paired with the ferocious Fonda in the same frame, you feel for her.
If, say, screenwriter Paul Rudnick had landed this project, he could have made it into Mommie Dearest camp. Danny Devito’s gleeful misanthropy could have rendered it a fun black comedy. But all Luketic desires is a hit. The upside is that this embarrassment will pretty much force Fonda to make another, better movie. Nobody wants Monster-in-Law as a legacy.