"Monster-in-Law" was hyped for being the return of Jane Fonda, as well as a comedic "battle royale" between Fonda and Jennifer Lopez. Getting right down to it, however, this is really just another take on the whole "Meet the Parents" plot, with even the "Parents" franchise itself already seeming tired after the first sequel.
There is a large opportunity to make a dark comedy out of this situation, but one can tell the direction that the bright, chirpy "Monster-in-Law" is headed within the first few minutes, where the film trots out that cliched joke of dogs getting it on with one another. Classy stuff. The picture stars Jennifer Lopez as Charlie, a dog walker/caterer/temp/yoga coach/etc. She somehow has an incredible apartment, and seems to spend her nights hanging out and drinking with friends.
She keeps meeting cute with Dr. Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) and although the two stumble along at first, they finally begin to see eye-to-eye and start a serious relationship together. The good doctor, however, doesn't seem to be getting as many medical pages as pages from his mother, Viola (Fonda). As we find out, Viola was formerly a famous newswoman, but understandably went off the deep end when she was replaced by a teen starlet whose hobbies include "watching really old movies...like 'Legally Blonde'." (Note: "Blonde" was also directed by Robert Luketic.)
When Viola finally gets out of a stay at a facility to recover from the incident, she goes to see Kevin. Viola isn't pleased to find that her son is in a new relationship, and when Kevin pops the question in front of her, it sends her back towards insanity. Assistant Ruby (Wanda Sykes, usually brilliant, but wasted here) suggests a project to take her mind off the situation, which - unfortunately - leads Viola to come up with the idea of tearing Charlie and Kevin apart, if it's the last thing she does.
However, "Monster-in-Law" pulls back a few steps before it ever gets dark. Fonda and Lopez do have some moments where they fight pretty entertainingly, but the movie would have been great if it had the guts to take it to "War of the Roses" territory. Their choice of weapons against one another is fairly familiar for this kind of flick - Viola takes advantage of Charlie's allergies to nuts, and Charlie lets her dogs in Viola's house, ruining...well, a whole lot.
After a while, Kevin takes a backseat to the film's focus on the battle between the Fonda and Lopez characters, but even early on, the two fall in love so quickly that the movie seems to want to move on to the main fight. The performances are fine, but they aren't enough to save the picture, either. Fonda takes it over-the-top as the near-insane mother, while Lopez does manage to take on Fonda's efforts pretty well. Vartan is bland, but to his credit, his character hardly seems to be the focus or really, all that important to the movie. Sykes saves some scenes, but the movie's PG-13 rating doesn't allow her to go as far as she could have.
"Monster-in-Law" could really have been a fun, sharp little comedy, but it goes soft after almost every time it tries to get the slightest bit edgy. There's a lot of possibilities within this situation, but "Monster-in-Law" is another picture that seems satisfied to keep the comedy mostly at the sitcom level (although, on second thought, many sitcoms these days are quite a bit more inspired and funny than this.) This certainly isn't a total loss - I thought Fonda and Lopez weren't bad, and the supporting performers surrounding the two were mostly fine. Still, it's disappointing that a movie with potential turns into something that's forgettable.
VIDEO: "Monster-in-Law" is presented by New Line in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame, with both editions on the first disc of the 2-DVD set. One wonders why the pan & scan presentation wasn't moved to the second disc and the extras spread out across both platters (or shuttled to the pan & scan platter entirely) in order to give the anamorphic widescreen presentation more room. As a result, the presentation does not live up to the usual New Line standards, with instances of edge enhancement present in several scenes. Detail comes up just a bit short, as most of the picture looks crisp, but some moments appear slightly soft.
The film's rich color palette looked fine, with nice saturation and no smearing. As one would expect from a new movie, the print looked to be in great shape, with no specks, marks or other faults. Overall, just a satisfactory effort.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, as expected, was not particularly lively in any way. The audio was spread out lightly across the front speakers, and the surrounds were hardly brought into play throughout the proceedings. Audio quality was fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is an audio commentary with director Robert Luketic, actress Wanda Sykes, producer Chris Bender, production designer Missy Stewart and director of Photography Russell Carpenter. I have to say that I turned off this track within about 15 minutes, as Luketic seemed to be spending the entire time gushing about how wonderful everyone was. Just tedious.
The second disc is where the remainder of the supplements are. We get featurettes that are titled "Keeping It Real With Jennifer Lopez" and "Vartan, The Man!". I need to repeat myself, because this situation requires it. We have featurettes that are titled..."Keeping It Real With Jennifer Lopez" and "Vartan, The Man!" because, A: if J-Lo isn't "keeping it real", then golly, who is?, and B: somewhere, Michael Vartan is embarassed for having a featurette about himself titled, "Vartan, The Man!". Also included in this section are "Welcome Back, Jane Fonda!" and "Robert Luketic: The Man Behind the Monster". There are also lifestyle and fashion featurettes.
We also get a pretty decent gag reel, a selection of deleted scenes with an intro from director Robert Luketic, teaser/theatrical trailers for the movie, sneak peeks at other New Line titles and DVD-ROM/online features.
Final Thoughts: "Monster-in-Law" has a few moments where it clicks, but most of the movie remains a pretty predictable and very light attempt at "dark" comedy. The performances are adequate, but they don't save a pretty second-rate script. New Line's DVD edition offers average video quality and satisfactory audio, as well as some extras that are quite fluffy and promotional, which is unusual for a New Line title.