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As one of the more polarizing figures in the entertainment world over the last 30-plus years, Jane Fonda has inspired seemingly equal amounts of admiration and antipathy. Politics aside, though, the two-time Oscar winner has rarely provided a more inviting target for vicious criticism than her regrettable comeback role in Monster-in-Law (2005). While Fonda's retirement from the screen had always seemed premature (her last appearance was in 1990's Stanley & Iris, with the star only in her early 50s), perhaps she knew best all along. If this film is any indication of the sorts of roles she will seek, the woman should have stayed quit. The only reason Fonda should pursue future acting gigs would be to ensure that this dramatically inept, borderline offensive mess doesn't end up as her coda. From Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, we've come to expect this sort of soft-edged, golden-hued fable, the kind of film that's termed a "romantic comedy" even though it's neither romantic nor comedic. The art of being a female Hollywood star involves convincing the audience that a pampered diva is actually a sympathetic, put-upon ordinary gal, and Lopez plays another of her angelic, stunningly beautiful, ostensibly relatable heroines here. Charlie juggles odd jobs (office temp, dog walker) until she meets handsome, bland doctor Kevin (Michael Vartan). Actually, they're forced to "meet cute" three times (beach, coffee shop, then beach again) before falling head over heels for each other. Kevin's mother Viola (Fonda) is a maniacally possessive woman, a TV journalist who's been replaced by a younger model and can't abide the notion that her son will be taken from her. Why this is so is never explained — that would require a depth to the characters that screenwriter Anya Kochoff has zero interest in providing. Viola tries to break up the happy couple, and once Charlie figures out her game, the cat fight is on. In the end, this manufactured corporate product offers up the same harmful moral as so many others: Shallow, insipid, unintelligent women have the same chance for happiness as anyone else, and the simple fact is they don't. It's exhausting to see the same narcissistic lesson (you don't have to change or grow as a person to experience fulfillment; everything will eventually just fall into place) over and over in movies, but such repetition is necessary if Americans are to be kept from being challenged or prodded into thought.

*          *          *

New Line's two-disc Platinum Series release of Monster-in-Law features a flawless anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) as well as a pan-and-scan option. The film surely belongs on a shortlist of movies that really don't need a commentary track, but that doesn't stop director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) from talking about how he "discovered" Wanda Sykes, who plays Viola's long-suffering personal assistant. The woman's starred in two TV series and had memorable guest shots on many others, including "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and he discovered her? Luketic also claims he would have signed on to direct the movie, knowing Lopez and Fonda were attached, without reading the script, but he does earn bizarre props for acknowledging that one shot was inspired by avant-garde pioneer Maya Deren. Sykes, director of photography Russell Carpenter, production designer Missy Stewart, and producer Chris Bender also chime in with mostly forgettable insights. Disc Two contains a selection of seven short deleted scenes (12 min.), a painless gag reel (5 min.), and six — count 'em, six — promotional-style featurettes.
—Marc Mohan

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