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Movies | If you haven't seen it before, it's not in this movie

Issue: "An evolving debate," May 21, 2005

Credit Jane Fonda with this: She's aging gracefully. Of course, this is meant only in the most superficial sense. With recent public statements that are far from graceful ("sticking to her guns" regarding her Vietnam-era exploits), Ms. Fonda is at least allowing her face to remain as unaltered as her politics.

Returning to the screen after a 15-year hiatus, Ms. Fonda stars with Jennifer Lopez in Monster-in-Law (rated PG-13 for sexual references and language). Ms. Fonda certainly brings plenty of energy to her role as a washed-up, Barbara Walters-like celebrity interviewer, and it's refreshing to see an actress completely comfortable with her age. But the film itself is an inauspicious career revival.

Ms. Lopez plays Charlie, the type of gorgeous single gal who's perpetually unlucky in love (gag). She lives in an impossibly trendy apartment (gag), working an eclectic mix of odd jobs, but secretly harboring talents as an artist (gag). Charlie is flanked by eccentric but hip friends, including the requisite gay pal whose only purpose is to add punctuation to Charlie's romantic foibles (gag).

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Enough with the involuntary choke reflex-director Robert Luketic (Legally Blond) approaches the material like the Army Rangers, with a strict "leave no [audience member] behind" policy. If you haven't seen it before, it's not in this movie.

Charlie meets a young, successful doctor named Kevin (Michael Vartan). Where? Walking dogs on the beach? In a coffee shop? At a cocktail party? (Unsurprising correct answer: all of the above.) He's perfect, they move in together, he proposes. But there's a catch. Kevin proposes in front of his mother Viola (Ms. Fonda)-the first time she meets Charlie. Viola has just been canned by the network, replaced by a younger journalist, and has spent several months recuperating from a breakdown. So now the married and divorced (times four) Viola is at risk of losing both her career and her only son. And thus the war begins.

Monster-in-Law is occasionally funny, but grows increasingly shrill and unpleasant as the battle between Charlie and Viola escalates. Add in some forced, crude humor (when did it become acceptable to use an obscene gesture as a stand-in for the one taboo profanity in a PG-13 rated movie?), and Monster-in-Law squanders what little appeal it may have held.


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