Monster-in-Law is a personification of the old "good news/bad news" joke about your new Cadillac going over the cliff with your mother-in-law behind the wheel. In this case, the joke is on Charlotte (Jennifer Lopez). She has just found the "Cadillac" of her dreams--Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan) --a single surgeon so perfectly perfect and debonair that Charlotte is unwittingly fooled by an ex-girlfriend into believing he's gay. Amazingly, Kevin has found the secret of style in spite of the fact he's a raving heterosexual.
No, it's not Kevin's sexual orientation that has this car heading for a cliff. Instead it's the woman behind the wheel, Viola Fields (Jane Fonda). A once renowned journalist who is just coming out of psychological rehab after being dumped as host of a national talk show, Viola has some serious anger management issues. And her blood pressure isn't likely to decrease when her only child--whom she maintains complete control over--shows up with a visible minority whose employment revolves around walking dogs and office temping.
When Kevin proposes to Charlotte during their first luncheon with The Mother, the overstressed battleaxe decides to wage the mother-of-all-wars. Hoping to enlist the help of her personal assistant, Ruby (Wanda Sykes)--a lady whose loyalty only seems active during working hours--Viola plots a series of actions with the hopes of driving the impending marriage way off course.
At first Charlotte is willing to ride in the back seat, but after Viola makes a takeover bid on the wedding plans and decides her health necessitates a need for her to move in with the engaged couple, the once timid girl is ready to fight for the wheel herself. Putting together her own plan of attack, Charlotte determines to keep her Cadillac while somehow still managing to toss Mommy over the cliff.
Is this a new trend for former leading ladies? A few months ago, screen-shy Streisand returned after an eight year absence to play the role of a sex-obsessed mother-in-law in Meet the Fockers. Now Jane Fonda is closing a fifteen year hiatus from acting so she can play the world's nastiest mother-in-law in yet another half-baked comedy chock full of stereotyped characters.
These cast-in-stone depictions are what we're supposed to be laughing at. Viola, still suffering from the shock of having a Latino commoner marry into the family, spends many scenes lying on her back and barking out orders to her African-American assistant who plays an updated role of Anne the maid from It's A Wonderful Life. Two secondary homosexual characters are presented in similar stereotypical fashion.
Not coincidentally releasing between Mother's Day and the peak of wedding season, it's a shame this film can't come up with something more original than racist sarcasm, modifications of "pie-in-your-face" pratfalls, many sexual innuendoes, profanities, and moments of sheer spitefulness. It all leads to the ultimate canned line: "You win! The wedding is off!" One can only wish the movie had suffered the same fate.