As predictable but lighthearted fluff, Monster-in-Law would probably have been better served as a sitcom than as a feature film. But then again, we wouldn't get to see Jane Fonda whooping it up with the best of them, and that's definitely worth the price of admission.
It's pretty simple. Girl meets boy of her dreams, falls in love, and then has to deal with a nightmare of a soon-to-be mother-in-law. The girl in question is Charlotte ''Charlie'' Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez), a free spirit who one day meets the unbelievably hunky surgeon Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) on the beach and, as they say, the rest is history. Until, that is, the newly engaged Charlie meets her fiancé's overprotective mother, Viola (Fonda), a recently deposed news anchorwoman. Charlie quickly realizes this woman, scrambling to regain her composure after losing her career, isn't about to let go of her son. Ever. So while the conniving and vain Viola does everything in her power to sabotage the wedding plans, with the help of her snarky personal assistant Ruby (Wanda Sykes), Charlie decides to fight for the man she loves. The gloves come off as the two women battle it out to see just who is the alpha female. I'll give you two guesses who comes out on top.
Lopez needs a hit. Badly. But while Monster-in-Law should reclaim some of that Wedding Planner magic for the actress, who plays sweet and carefree better than most, the film really belongs to Fonda. And what a comeback it is. As Viola, Fonda aptly displays her newfound freedom as a woman of a certain age, going over the top in just the right places. Either deliciously wicked and devious, or sufficiently weepy and neurotic, the veteran Oscar winner's obviously having a blast. Good for her. Supporting Fonda is the always hilarious Sykes, who may be delegated to the sarcastic sidekick part but, of course, gets to deliver some of the better lines. Vartan, from TV's Alias, fills out the rest of the cast nicely as the almost too-good-to-be-true doctor. Honestly, if either one of the women had just talked to Kevin about their problems in the first place, he could have worked it out for them. He's that good. And the delightfully cantankerous Elaine Stritch makes a juicy cameo as Kevin's grandmother and Viola's ex-mother-in-law, who was just as disapproving of her daughter-in-law way back when. Aha!
Monster-in-Law is familiar territory for director Robert Luketic, having successfully helmed such jocular fluff as Legally Blonde--but, thank God, not Legally Blonde 2)--and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!. Sure, MIL could be considered a reversed Meet the Parents, but unlike that laffer, in which calamity and chaos reign, MIL is a far more conventional comedy. Luketic knows just how to guide his talent into providing the right comedic timing, hitting the precise moments like a metronome. But it gets a little boring, spotting the beats way before they come. If not for the big-name cast, MIL could have easily been an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
The run-of-the-mill comedy might not be the Monster hit Jennifer Lopez is seeking, but it thankfully opens up the possibility of seeing more of the talented Jane Fonda.