*/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras D
starring Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Bob Hoskins
screenplay by Kevin Wade
directed by Wayne Wang
by Walter Chaw Less another version of the Cinderella story than a remake of the dreadful Ever After, Wayne Wang's Maid in Manhattan (why Wang is trying to make the same kind of magical Manhattan love tripe as Nora Ephron is only the first of the film's head-scratchers) manages ill-advisedly to remind of the Ally Sheedy vehicle Maid to Order whilst degenerating into the sort of dead-eyed quasi-political femi-bullshit tailor-made for divas in decline looking for a reason for their existence other than as subject of the next blaring headline. Ironic, then, that the central issues of the picture are resolved through snapshots of fake magazine covers.
After a few interesting turns in alternative mainstream fare like Oliver Stone's underestimated U-Turn, Soderbergh's excellent Out of Sight, and the Woody Allen-voiced Antz, Lopez has become an in-joke and a cottage industry. She's attempted to wrest the comedy of bad-behaviour crown from Julia Roberts with The Wedding Planner, to wrest the battered avenging-angel crown from Ashley Judd with Enough, and, twice failing (she did wrest the almost-uncontested "badly miscast as a cop" crown from Melanie Griffith with Angel Eyes in the interim), takes a stab at the Drew Barrymore adipose pundit crown with this stillbirth. She's low enough now that she actually mocks the size of her own ass in this picture, revealing not so much a playful self-awareness as the kind of resigned good humour reserved for performers at the end of the line subjecting themselves to Friar's Club roasts.
Marisa (Lopez) is a maid for a chichi Manhattan hotel who, at the urging of her tough-talking hoochie-mama fairy godmother Stephanie (Marissa Matrone), tries on an expensive ensemble, gets mistaken for a socialite (yeah, right) by smooth-talking Republican lothario (yeah, right) Christopher (Ralph Fiennes), and engages in a series of delightful (yeah, right) slapstick misadventures as the two fall hopelessly in love. Stanley Tucci is again (and always) wonderful in a thankless role as the politician's harried spin-doctor (here's hoping that whatever Tucci got for his last few thankless roles buys another Joe Gould's Secret or Big Night), and Bob Hoskins (I know!) is a total anachronism as some sort of relic from The Remains of the Day, there to provide Maid in Manhattan its single most pathetic pyrrhic victory. That Marisa will be outed by a snooty competing member of the ruling class (Natasha Richardson, hideously embarrassing) is never in question; that she will engage in a series of dim-witted and base monologues meant to illustrate her insouciant funk, also no surprise. What really wounds is the revelation that there's actually an interesting movie in Maid in Manhattan and that its been suffocated at conception by its Munchausen-by-proxy mum. Punish the vehicle to adore the star.
Beware, then, the film that casts Lopez as a single mother. The child in Maid in Manhattan is Ty (Tyler Posey), a miserable collection of cute dysfunction obsessed with Richard Nixon and the music of Bread and Simon and Garfunkel, and so needing the gentle ministrations of a replacement father figure that he should just dress up like a Dickensian street urchin and start loitering outside Big Brothers of America HQ. What would garbage like this be without Ty overcoming his fear of public speaking to reunite working class mom and Prince Charming (see also Pretty Woman) in a rosy, never-in-doubt finale (that nevertheless takes its own sweet time getting to where it's going)? Reason for the delay is attributable to a general lack of interest, but a couple of musical montages are more directly responsible: the "dressing up" montage that correlates almost directly to the "in training" montage in similarly idiotic underdog action films, and the bittersweet "breaking up is sad" music video that would always be sad for the right reasons were it not always sad for the wrong ones.
Screenwriter Kevin Wade has been here before (plumbing the shallow deeps of underdog push-button race in Mr. Baseball, of juvenile gender in Junior, and of lugubrious love stories in Meet Joe Black), making Maid in Manhattan the sort of gruel producible through generations of boiling down the bones of old stews. Only the lovely cinematography of Karl Walter Lindenlaub rises above the quagmire, turning the slumming co-stars and struggling starlet into picture-perfect figures in postcard New York. It's almost worth the effort of Lindenlaub to sit through the damned thing. On the other hand, no it isn't. Originally published: December 13, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Judging by the silver "EXPERIENCE HIGH DEFINITION" band on the front cover, the Made of Honor trailer that cues up on startup, and the lack of DTS audio, Sony's Blu-ray edition of Maid in Manhattan was pressed and warehoused a long time before the disc's 2010 release date. Certainly the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer looks processed in the fashion of early next-gen output from the studio: Grain appears to have been buffed out of the image and the sharpness boosted to pore-revealing levels, resulting in the kind of glossy presentation that wows new adopters but smacks of revisionism to the trained eye. It's status quo--for 2008; some opening chroma noise is thankfully limited to the Columbia logo. Meanwhile, the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio manages to create a more stirring, enveloping street ambience than I'd remembered. For BD, the powers that be have added a 7-minute blooper reel (SD, 4:3 letterbox) featuring lots of vamping from Stanley Tucci. The "Blu-ray is High Definition!" spot and a trailer for This Christmas otherwise round out the platter. Originally published: February 22, 2010.