Monster-in-Law (5/10)

by Tony Medley

After viewing an appallingly unenticing trailer, I had no desire to see this. New Line Cinema gave me a break by failing to send me an invite to the screening, so I had an out. But I went to see it anyway, with no expectations of enjoyment. As a result I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.

The story is simple. Charlie (Jennifer Lopez), a dog-walker, falls in love with Kevin (Michael Vartan), a doctor who always needs a shave. Kevin is described by Remy (a funny-looking Adam Scott), Charlie’s gay friend, as “hot.” Well, I didn’t think he was hot. Neither did my date, who knows a “hot” guy when she sees one (because, frankly, I don’t). Kevin’s mother, Viola Fields (Jane Fonda), is an oft-married, just fired, world famous TV interviewer. Viola is just coming out of being institutionalized for a breakdown on national TV and is violently opposed to her son marrying Charlie.

The result is predictable. Kevin goes away and leaves Viola in Charlie’s care, as manipulated by Viola so she can screw things up between them. There are some laughs, but not enough to offset some disgraceful attempts at comedy by writer Anya Kochoff and director Robert Luketic. Like “Hitch” earlier this year, there is a reprehensible scene relying on a food allergy as comedy. While movies are entertainment, they should also educate. It is a disservice to show Viola trying to induce an allergic reaction in Charlie by inserting almonds in some gravy to get Charlie to unknowingly ingest them. Anyone with a food allergy can die from ingesting a food to which they are allergic. It’s not funny. It’s life-threatening. After Charlie does eat the gravy and has a reaction, she is just worried about swelling up, fearing she might look bad. Worse, her fiancé, Kevin, is a doctor! He would know that the first thing that should be done would be to rush her to the emergency room. But, no, it’s all treated as laughs. Kevin reassures her that her face will eventually look OK, even though Charlie awakens the next day with a bloated face. She’s lucky it wasn’t a bloated trachea blocking her airway killing her. Kevin’s lucky, too, because he would have been responsible since a doctor would have known better. But not according to the mindless Luketic and Kochoff.

Luketic and Kochoff compound this felony by inserting one of the hoariest comedy routines extant, a takeoff on alphonse & gaston straight from vaudeville’s interpretation of the comic strip. When Viola’s assistant, Ruby (Wanda Sykes, the best thing in the movie) discovers Viola’s diabolical plan, she tries to prevent it and convinces Viola it’s not a good idea. As Dr. Chamberlain (Stephen Dunham), a waiter posing as a doctor for Viola to convince Kevin and Charlie that Viola is really sick, takes the gravy in to serve it to Charlie and the others, instead of immediately rushing out to stop it, Viola and Ruby engage in the “You do it; no, you do it; no, you do it” routine so that neither goes to save Charlie.

That’s not all. There is another reprehensible scene of Viola and Charlie slapping each other in the face time and again. The swings are big and the sounds are like bombs. Forget the unfunny, brutal spectacle of the violence of two women beating on each other, these women don’t get a mark on their faces, not even one little hint of red.

Wait, there’s more. Charlie gives Viola a pill that causes her to go into a deep sleep, which she does by passing out with her face in the soup. Charlie walks out without a second thought, and that’s supposed to be funny. If Viola passed out with her head in the soup, the chances are that she’d drown. But in the morning her head is still in the soup, when Ruby awakens her, none the worse for wear. In order to be funny, something has to have some connection with reality. If Luketic (who delighted his first time out with the charming “Legally Blonde” in 2001) and Kochoff have to fall back on such unfunny, antediluvian routines, they should learn another trade.

Further burdening the film is the total absence of any chemistry between Charlie and Kevin, maybe because there’s no reason for them to fall in love other than her physical beauty and the fact that he’s a wealthy doctor. While those might satisfy Hollywood, love needs more to bloom. And without more, one finds it hard to buy the rest of the film.

The best reason to see this film is to see the performance of Wanda Sykes, which is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, including the infamous Ms. Fonda. To her credit, Jane, who gives a workmanlike performance, eschewed the Doris Day Filter for most of the film. Her lined face clearly showed her years.

May 14, 2005