Jane Fonda has leapt back into movie acting with “Monster-in-Law.” After 15 years on the sidelines, she said in a recent interview that resuming her craft was no more difficult than having sex. At age 67, that’s an achievement on both counts.
However, to say that Fonda is the only reason worth watching “Monster-in-Law” is an overstatement because she’s giving one of her worst performances. Still, playing just-canned Barbara Walters TV journalist Viola Fields, Fonda is obviously having a lot of fun chewing the scenery and stealing scenes from the almost-amateurish Jennifer Lopez, who’s far too old to be another naïve innocent Jenny-From-Block Cinderella (“Maid In Manhattan,” “The Wedding Planner”). Yet, here’s J-Lo as dog walker/office temp Charlie catching the eye and the heart of Viola’s only child, doctor/son Kevin (Michael Vartan).
In the midst of a nervous breakdown after her axing, Viola channels her frustration into destroying the love and wedding plans of Charlie and Kevin. Of course, she proceeds with two-faced Machiavellianism which, at first, fools Charlie and continues to cloud Kevin throughout the film.
Then, Viola’s nastiness finally meets its match when Charlie decides to fight back. But, Viola isn’t ultimately stopped in her tracks until her mother-in-law, Gertrude (Elaine Stritch), appears and out-monsters everyone. It’s the only scene in the movie that has real dramatic and comic power. But, it’s too little, too late.
The other saving grace is Wanda Sykes as Viola’s assistant/Jiminy Cricket conscience Ruby. She is on hand to shoot zingers into Viola’s ever-inflating ego, supplying the movie’s best one-liners. Better to send Charlie and Kevin a long honeymoon and focus on the fireworks between Viola, Gertrude and Ruby. That would have been a comedy for “Fun With Dick and Jane” Fonda to come back to.