Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) is a workaholic single girl looking for her knight in shining armor. He arrives in the form of Kevin (Michael Vartan, "Never Been Kissed"), a doctor who is instantly smitten with Charlie, and the two fall in love. It soon comes time for Charlie to meet Kevin's mother, former television talk show host Viola (Jane Fonda). Viola isn't a fan of Charlie's earthy, unconventional background, and when Kevin proposes to her, Viola goes insane and does everything in her power to prevent the blessed event from ever happening.
The real question of "Monster-in-Law" (IMDb listing) is why this material spoke to Jane Fonda in such a way that she broke from a 15-year absence from cinema to return to the screen. I shouldn't complain, because it's great to see her back in form (and lit like a goddess by miracle man Russell Carpenter). But heavens, "Monster" is not the type of comedy that anyone should be making, much less a legend like Fonda.
"Monster" is comedy without laughs, but more importantly, it's a film without a plot. After a minor 20-minute setup of characters and backstory, "Monster" soon takes off into a series of pranks between Viola and Charlie, starting off nice and simple such as when Viola bestows a dress on Charlie that is a size too small. The film soon sputters into nastier realms, with Viola purposefully poisoning Charlie's food, or the two engaging in a slapfight. There's just so much tomfoolery between the two, it felt like I was watching a special divorcee edition of "Viva la Bam."
Director Robert Luketic is a specialist when it comes to mass-audience whitebread comedies ("Legally Blonde," "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton"). However, without any story to cling to, all "Monster" becomes is a series of sight gags that are hardly funny, and are so increasingly outlandish and slapsticky they could never honestly connect with the female audience the picture is aimed at. Luketic is just pointing the camera at Lopez and Fonda going nuts and assuming that is enough. That isn't nearly enough to maintain an entire film.
After seeing her work here in "Monster-in-Law," one might think Jane Fonda was locked in a cage all those missing years. Fonda gives the material her all, screaming, mugging, and giggling her way through an entire performance like a maniac. Admittedly, she's a hoot, and her energy level is so off the charts, the fact that she's rarely funny seems secondary to the madness she's harnessing. Lopez can only pray to keep up, and apparently there's nobody in heaven listening to her. Wisely, Luketic pairs Fonda with comic Wanda Sykes ("Pootie Tang") as her assistant, and the two share much easier chemistry. In fact, they generate the only laughs in the film.
Expectedly, "Monster-in-Law" wants to pluck some heartstrings in the last reel, but none of it is earned. Lopez and Fonda just aren't evenly matched here, and their nitwit screenplay fails them at every turn.
Filmfodder Grade: D