Review: “Monster-in-Law”

A dud start to the Summer, “Monster-in-Law” could well have been written off as just a comedy that simply failed to click if it wasn’t for the fact that it had so much going for it. A great concept, a solid director, a proven cast and two leads – one a young but talented beauty and the other Hollywood royalty of a calibre that’s almost never seen these days. So what in the hell happened?’, ‘A dud start to the Summer, “Monster-in-Law” could well have been written off as just a comedy that simply failed to click if it wasn’t for the fact that it had so much going for it. A great concept, a solid director, a proven cast and two leads – one a young but talented beauty and the other Hollywood royalty of a calibre that’s almost never seen these days. So what in the hell happened? It’s hard to pinpoint the problems but whatever the case this monster definitely has no bite – let alone teeth.

Hunky Aussie Director Robert Luketic has shown a strong talent in recent years with the refreshingly funny “Legally Blonde” and the decently enjoyable “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton”. “Monster” is his weakest film to date though it doesn’t seem to be his fault – the pace never drops off, the editing is well done without being distraction, the production values are all studio comedy perfect, etc. The makers get the look of the film right but the feel is just off – as a result the onscreen action simply feels as flat as a tack. The assorted gags on display are almost embarrassingly awkward in their setup.

Maybe its the tired jokes of Anya Kochoff’s screenplay which goes for all the obvious light-hearted gaffs with the odd moment of darkness. One could say its all the cliched characters from the sassy black servant to the gay best friend, even if both Wanda Sykes and Adam Scott in those respective parts easily outshine any of the leads. Sykes in particular manages to both adhere to the stereotype whilst subtlety poking fun at it at the same time. Still, I guess a fair amount of the blame must go on the lead actors though.

Vartan does great work on “Alias” and does fine whilst he’s on screen here in the film’s generic but enjoyable light romance scenes that cover the opening 15-20 minutes. Once Fonda appears though, he’s relegated to the side and in fact disappears for big stretches making his character of little consequence. Attempts by him to form a truce between these two women ring half hearted at best. Lopez on the other hand does her usual “please love me” rom-com routine. She’s so much better than that – we’ve seen this girl can act and do it well in such films as “Out of Sight”, hell even in the predictable “Shall We Dance” she turned in a performance far more understated and interesting than the fluffy girl seen here.

That leaves Fonda in a role almost designed for her, one she could sleepwalk her way through and yet more often than not she misses all the beats. It doesn’t help that her character of Viola Davis, a bitter alcoholic ex-journalist just back from the funny farm, is a cardboard cutout. Her resulting pure hatred for the frothy and sweet Lopez has little explanation short of her being an overprotective mother. She’s not a nice character, seemingly born with a singled-minded pigheadedness that makes her eventual epiphany truly impossible to swallow. Indeed, for a character with her experience and smarts, it’s astonishing how childish and insecure she is.

The fights between the main pair are undermined time and time again as the comedy goes for either the blandest and broadest dumb laugh possible, or tries something quite nasty but never follows through on it. None of the gags are original let alone noteworthy, and none actually yield any laugh. Even the harshest, an attempt to essentially poison Lopez’s nut-allergic character, simply doesn’t work. The array of smaller roles for the likes of Will Arnet and Monet Mazur are window dressing with no real screen time whatsoever. Elaine Stritch though has a fun but all too short cameo. It’s a good looking comedy no question, but considering the talent involved its an astonishing letdown.