Dir: Robert Luketic. US2005. 95mins.

Jennifer Lopez may get top billing, but Jane Fonda is theonly conceivable reason to see Monster-In-Law, a tepid romantic comedyabout a bride-to-be locking horns with her boyfriend's mum.

In the US, where the filmsopens on May 13, box-office may be mixed. Thirty years after the US pulled itstroops out of Vietnam, Fonda remains a polarising figure to many Americans -the very same mainstream, middle-class Americans that would be Monster-In-Law'snatural audience.

Personal animosity shouldnot be a factor overseas, but the film's considerable other problems -including the fact that Lopez plays totally against her brassy J-Lo image,possibly alienating fans - spell trouble. Ancillary markets look brighter.

High-concept storylineconcerns the tug-of-war between sweet, upbeat Charlie (Lopez) and her fianceKevin's (Vartan) domineering mother. It seems that high-powered mum Viola(Fonda) has recently lost her job as a national television newsreader and nowfears she is losing her only child. Thinking she can scare off Charlie byimposing herself on the young couple, Viola turns into a first-class witch,enlisting her long-time assistant Ruby (Sykes) in her scheme.

At first Charlie does herbest to accommodate the demanding Viola, who makes sure she behaves herselfaround her son. But as the older woman increasingly usurps Charlie and Kevin'slives, the bride-to-be decides to fight back.

The film's biggest problemis that screenwriter Kochoff, perhaps at the insistence of the producers, doesnot want to make either Charlie or Viola the bad guy. By making Viola's'ploy' obvious, she hopes to humanise her and, thus, make bothcharacters sympathetic.

Fonda, who seems almostoverly eager to please on her return to the screen after a 14-year absence, isless of a problem than Lopez, who is so smiley and sweet that she proves acomplete bore.

The first third of the filmcharts Charlie and Kevin's whirlwind courtship. Not only does Vartan proveincredibly bland, stuck as he is in the usually female role of eye candy, butthere is no chemistry between the supposed lovers. His proposal to Charlie - infront of his mother as the three of them are having dinner together at arestaurant - is just one example of the ridiculous and unconvincing plotmachinations.

Australian-born directorLuketic, who scored a hit with Legally Blonde (2001), works with anequally broad, shtick-filled screenplay here, but it is difficult to seeCharlie winning over audiences in quite the same way Elle Woods (the ReeseWitherspoon character) did. The film's subject matter, of course, is even moreuniversal than that movie's premise was.

Fonda certainly looks great,as does Lopez. Cinematographer Carpenter (who picked up an Oscar for Titanic)lights them beautifully but naturally. The fact that both are gorgeous women tobegin with hardly hurts.

Prod cos: Benderspinks Prods, Spring Creek Prods
US dist:
New Line Cinema
Int'l sales:
New Line Cinema
Exec prods:
Michael Flynn, TobyEmmerich, Richard Brener
Paula Weinstein, ChrisBender, JC Spink
Anya Kochoff
Russell Carpenter
Prod des:
Missy Stewart
Scott Hill, Kevin Tent
David Newman
Main cast:
Jennifer Lopez, JaneFonda, Michael Vartan, Wanda Sykes