Maid in Manhattan
Directed by Wayne Wang
Written by Kevin Wade
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes


Maid in Manhattan

Where's the great John Hughes when we need him? Well, he's hiding here with story credit under the name of Edmond Dantès, the very wronged Count of Monte Cristo, a name he uses when he's been traduced by the studio, as he obviously was when this script was taken away from him and given to Kevin Wade, whose body of work has gone from funny ("Working Girl") to interesting ("True Colors") to awful ("Mr. Baseball") to agonizingly interminable ("Meet Joe Black"). Whereas I would note that Mr. Hughes not only wrote but directed the brilliant "16 Candles," "The Breakfast Club," and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Since "Maid in Manhattan" is a classic Cinderella story, which anyone can recite from first moment to last, it must today be given some viable reason for asking us to pay attention. One reason is, of course, Jennifer Lopez, who is not only a star but an underrated actress with a good range and the ability to submerge her starness inside her characters. But Ralph Fiennes is, there's no way around this, a lump on screen. With a monotone delivery and a tendency to swallow his words, his casting here seems like one of those back-room studio/agent deals that was a fait accompli before a dollar was spent on the film.

The next requirement is that the story not be presented as though we've never heard it before. Here the script takes us through almost every possible step, making the laziest possible variations on the theme. As you know from the trailer, Lopez is Marisa Ventura, a Latino maid at a very posh Manhattan hotel, who comes with a lovely 9-year-old son (Tyler Garcia Posey in an unaffected, witty performance). In fact their relationship is more interesting and rewarding to watch than anything else in the film.

However: While trying on the pantsuit of an obnoxious guest (Natasha Richardson), Marisa is mistaken for a guest herself by Fiennes, playing Chris Marshall, a New York state assemblyman who's running for the U.S. Senate. Sparks fly, or would if Fiennes and director Wayne Wang could get out of their own way and give the scenes a little pizazz. Wang seems not to have a sense of wit. Comedy depends largely on such often-overlooked skills as correct camera placement, but Wang is too casual throughout, as though he were shooting a documentary. Moreover, he lets his secondary characters (Richardson and Stanley Tucci) overact shamelessly, and his editing is by-the-numbers pedestrian.

From the beginning, unfortunately, all we get is constant misidentifications and obstacles, leading up to what should have been a climactic ball, of course, which we would expect to be magic but instead becomes just another throwaway scene. So. Are you asking if Marisa and Chris end up together? Is the pope still Polish? No matter. Let me save you the admission price and tell you that they do.