If you’re smart, get online, punch up the trailer to Monster-in-Law, watch it a few times, skip the movie, and save yourself a couple of bucks. The clip shows Viola Fields (Jane Fonda), a journalist in the Barbara Walters mold, gnashing her teeth and throwing fit after fit over the prospect of her precious son, surgeon and resident doormat Kevin (Michael Vartan), marrying “Charlie” Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez). What exactly is wrong with this young lady, you might wonder? Nothing, actually; she happens not only to be smart and beautiful but also a Little League coach, a yoga instructor, and a wannabe fashion designer in her spare time. Yep, she’s perfect, and Viola can’t stand it, and frankly, neither could I.
You know a film’s in trouble when, right off the bat, its main character is given a cute nickname, appears to have a heart of gold, and for some odd reason is mysteriously single. Another warning sign: The romantic couple in question meets in a schmaltzy, squirm-inducing manner. The script, by first-time screenwriter Anya Kochoff, suffers from a terminal case of the cutes and is unimaginative to boot. As Viola tries to drive Charlie away, her plans are not only simplistic but also quickly become repetitious. Vartan and Lopez’s scenes are nearly unbearable, although Fonda, the consummate pro, lends a degree of undeserved gravity to this production. Though I’ve never been a big fan of hers, there’s no denying that Fonda has presence. Whenever she appears onscreen here, she blows everyone else away with the strength, confidence, and sense of assuredness she brings to the role.
In a sense, Fonda — who hasn’t been on the silver screen in 15 years — hasn’t missed a step. She still commands our attention and doesn’t shirk her responsibilities as an actress. She’s a real trouper here, and I couldn’t help but recall the moment from Sunset Boulevard when forgotten starlet Norma Desmond complains, “I’m still big — it’s the pictures that got small.” The same applies to Fonda here, but the picture she finds herself in isn’t just small — it’s minuscule.
Also in theaters this week. . .
Crash [R] A car accident brings together a diverse group of strangers in Los Angeles, forcing them to confront racism. Parkway Pointe
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy [PG] Just before the Earth is to be demolished by an alien construction crew, journeyman Arthur Dent is rescued by his researcher friend Ford Prefect, and they begin an adventure. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East
House of Wax [R] Car troubles waylay a group of college students who end up visiting a museum operated by a sadistic curator. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
Kicking & Screaming [PG] Soccer coach Phil Weston (Ferrell) faces his father Buck’s (Robert Duvall) team. Buck’s ace player is a son from a new marriage. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
Mindhunters [R] FBI trainees have to figure out who’s the killer among them. Val Kilmer, LL Cool J, and Christian Slater star. Parkway Pointe
Unleashed [R] A kind gentler Danny (Jet Li) emerges from years of violence in the hands of an elderly piano tuner (Morgan Freeman). Parkway Pointe