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New Line Home Cinema presents
"Oh, I could just kill that dog-walking slut!"
DVD ReviewWelcome back, Jane Fonda! It's been 15 years since the two-time Oscar winner, exercise guru, and outspoken feminist shut the door on Hollywood to become media mogul Ted Turner's trophy wife, but she proves in the otherwise frustratingly formulaic Monster-in-Law she's still got more talent, magnetism and, yes, sex appeal than most actresses half her age. All those grueling hours of aerobics and butt crunches have reaped rewards for Fonda, who exudes a healthy glow, seems to possess boundless energy, and looks slim, trim, and completely natural in every scene of Robert Luketic's fun but brainless comedy. I mean, come on, how many 67-year-old actresses would dare don a pair of skin-tight jeans or parade around in sleek, sleeveless gowns with plunging necklines? Fonda, however, effortlessly pulls it off (no arm flab on this old bird), while filing a frisky, no-holds-barred performance that's an utter delight.
With every arched eyebrow, sly grin, and flippant quip, Fonda telegraphs that she's tickled pink to be playing Viola Fields, a high-powered, egomaniacal television newswoman à la Barbara Walters who's abruptly canned by the network in favor of a nubile bimbo. Her perfunctory dismissal provokes a complete mental breakdown and prolonged stay in a sanitarium, where the shattered journalist quits drinking, learns anger management skills, and vows to devote her life to her grown son Kevin (Michael Vartan), a hunky surgeon who's always played second fiddle to her career. Viola decides to surprise her precious boy with a mommy-and-me African safari, yet just after she buys their airline tickets, she learns his new girlfriend, Charlotte "Charlie" Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez), is coming to visit. And when Kevin unexpectedly pops the question over afternoon tea, Viola becomes instantly and hilariously unhinged.
Viola is put off by Charlie's ethnicity, and senses the girl's aimless career path (she's a professional temp) masks a gold-digging M.O. Those negative vibes, however, morph into full-blown loathing when Charlie and Kevin become engaged, and Viola feels her dear, darling son slipping away forever. With maniacal single-mindedness, Viola plots to sabotage their impending nuptials and reclaim poor, bewitched Kevin from Charlie's clutches. Of course, Viola underestimates sweet Charlie's resolve, and after enduring several of her future mother-in-law's nasty manipulations, Charlie gives Viola a taste of her own medicine.
From the opening frames to the sappy closing truce, Monster-in-Law is completely predictable, but contains several laugh-out-loud lines and situations, keeping the audience engaged, if not involved. But despite perky work from Lopez (who, after several romantic comedies, seems to have perfected "cute") and some snappy zingers from Wanda Sykes (as Viola's assistant, accomplice, and confidante), the film remains a trite sitcom, and only the appealing personalities can keep it afloat. Luketic (who also directed Legally Blonde and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!) mines familiar territory, yet fails to bring anything fresh to the material, and the bland Vartan seems more like a spectator than a participant in many of his scenes.
Fonda, however, seizes the moment, grabbing the film's reins and leaving her fellow actors in the dust. She doesn't seem rusty in the least, and achieves such a comfortable rapport with the camera, one almost forgets it's been 15 years since we last saw her (in the underrated drama, Stanley & Iris). Though some might question her judgment in selecting such a fluffy, lowbrow property as her comeback vehicle, Fonda quickly proves that, when called upon, she can be a deft comedienne, unafraid to poke fun at herself or go out on a limb for a laugh.
And why not use lighter fare to reintroduce herself to audiences? Hey, it worked before. Fonda chose an almost identical tack back in the 1970s, starring in the comic caper Fun With Dick and Jane after her controversial anti-war views made her persona non grata in Hollywood for several years. She followed that trifle up with Julia and Coming Home, garnering two Best Actress nominations and one Academy Award. While I don't expect Monster-in-Law to spark the same creative renaissance, I hope this innocuous romp was enough of a hoot for Fonda to make her come back this time for good.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: New Line includes both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions on Disc 1 of this two-disc set, and like most recent film transfers, Monster-in-Law looks crisp and clean, with only a few errant specks sullying the print. A faint bit of grain adds some texture and warms up the color scheme, while contrast and shadow detail are both fine. Fleshtones remain natural, and though the digital sharpness calls a bit more attention to Fonda's age (celluloid is kinder), the actress still looks terrific.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track supplies clear, full-bodied audio, with easily understandable dialogue and no distortion. Various soundtrack songs nicely envelop, but the bulk of the audio remains anchored in the front channels. Bass frequencies occasionally kick in to provide accents, but this is hardly a film for audiophiles.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Wedding Crashers, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The New World, The Whole Shebang
2 TV Spots/Teasers
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Robert Luketic, actress Wanda Sykes, producer Chris Bender, production designer Missy Stewart, and director of photography Russell Carpenter
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Also on Disc 1, a soundtrack preview (with six cues) allows viewers to jump to scenes that feature songs from the Monster-in-Law CD, and a web link provides access to the film's internet site, which contains, among other things, a photo gallery with approximately 50 production stills, an in-law advice column, a Monster-in-Law Survival Guide, and a compendium of in-law anecdotes from average Joes and Janes.
The bulk of supplements reside on Disc 2, and there's a bushel to keep fans occupied. The fun begins with seven deleted scenes (totaling 12 minutes, and preceded by a lame director's introduction) that include some funny shtick, such as Viola's sanitarium confessional (in which she admits to fantasizing about running over journalist Diane Sawyer with her new minivan), and an alternate wedding day catfight between Fonda and Lopez. Unlike most deleted scenes, these are fairly interesting, although the decision to excise them remains wise. Ruby's Make-up Bag follows, and gives Wanda Sykes the chance to clown around with a couple of bare-chested male dancers in a mildly amusing (and, at just over 90 seconds, thankfully brief) send-up of pop princess Britney Spears, while a five-minute gag reel provides plenty of forced humor and only a couple of genuine chuckles.
The Documentaries section kicks off with the eight-minute featurette, Welcome Back, Jane Fonda, which celebrates the actress' return to the screen after a 15-year hiatus. Fonda admits she likes the over-the-top elements of Viola's character, and enjoyed filming "the physical stuff, the fights." In fact, she says, "I don't think I've ever had so much fun on a film—of the 50 I've made." Director Luketic marvels that "she's got the body of a 30-year-old," while Lopez addresses their chemistry ("she was the real, real, real thing"), and Vartan talks about Fonda's "wacky sense of humor." Keeping It Real with Jennifer is another slick puff piece (running six minutes) that features more effusive gushing from cast and crew. Lopez cites the face-in-the-cake scene as her favorite, and Luketic feels the movie captures the star's "wonderful, easygoing persona."
A bit lengthier (but just as fluffy), Robert Luketic: The Man Behind the Monster, runs 18 minutes and adopts a production diary format, beginning with the first day of shooting in May 2004, and continuing on through post-production, additional photography, and scoring. Lots of behind-the-scenes shots of Luketic directing and explaining the tricks of his trade flesh out this featurette, which includes comments from the cast, producer Chris Benson, writer Anya Kochoff, and director of photography Russell Carpenter, who describes Monster-in-Law as "one of the most pleasant experiences I've ever had." Vartan, the Man! spends the bulk of its five-and-a-half-minute running time telling us what a great guy the actor is, and showing him playing lots of poker on the set, while two "trendsetter" featurettes—one on lifestyles (4m:33s) and one on fashion (6m:03s)—examine the film's Los Angeles setting and varied wardrobe, respectively.
Two teasers, a trailer, and a few sneak peeks at other New Line releases complete the extras package.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsWere it not for Jane Fonda, Monster-in-Law would be nothing more than a forgettable, formulaic comedy. Yet the actress' exuberant, deliciously nasty portrayal salvages this run-of-the-mill farce, making it almost palatable. The fabulous Fonda proves she's still got star power to burn, and doesn't need to latch onto Lopez's coattails to carry a film. Rent this one for her, and her alone.
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