From its first focus-group-prescribed moment to its last prefabricated images of cuteness and love, “Maid in Manhattan” is a 100-percent unoriginal, factory-made romantic comedy without an ounce of creativity or a shred of unpredictability.
Its unsurprising nature is, itself, unsurprising. People who go to romantic comedies (i.e., women and the men they drag with them) don’t want twists or shocks. They want the glamorous onscreen couple to wind up together in the end, no matter how obvious or predictable it is that they will.
But even as we forgive “Maid in Manhattan” for having the same outcome as countless other films Ã¢â‚¬â€ everyone likes happy endings, after all, even predictable ones Ã¢â‚¬â€ we must also wonder whom the filmmakers think they’re fooling. Making “a romantic comedy” is one thing. Making “a romantic comedy that copies its prototypes down the last detail” is borderline inexcusable. As we describe the film, directed by Wayne Wang (“Anywhere but Here,” “The Joy Luck Club”), count how many times the phrase “of course” is applicable.
Jennifer Lopez plays Marisa Ventura, a maid at the ritzy Beresford Hotel in New York City. She’s a resourceful single mom (of course), whose son Ty (Tyler Posey) is really cute (of course) and really smart (of course).
One of the hotel guests is senatorial candidate Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), who has a reputation for being non-committal in his romantic relationships (of course). He mistakes an out-of-uniform Marisa for a wealthy guest, not the poverty-stricken maid she really is, and invites her out on that pretense.
Now, Marisa could clear things up by simply telling the truth. But she perpetuates the lie (of course), leading to wacky, farcical situations like being invited to his suite for lunch Ã¢â‚¬â€ the lunch at which she, as the maid, is supposed to act as waitress!
Hilarity, alas, does not ensue. Kevin Wade’s by-the-numbers script offers the usual assortment of whimsical co-workers (of course), and several pretentious straw men for Marisa to bring down to Earth with her sassiness Ã¢â‚¬â€ but few real, actual funny lines. Within 15 minutes of the film beginning, there have been not one but two naked men, both of them bare for purposes of comedy. That’s the sort of desperate humor we’re dealing with here. (One scene with a naked guy is funny. But two? Within minutes of each other? No.)
Lopez and Fiennes have charisma separately, but together they are nothing special. More watchable are Bob Hoskins as a noble hotel butler and, in other scenes, Stanley Tucci as Marshall’s flustered publicity adviser. Both actors are above the material but gamely go at this nonsense with full gusto.
In the end, the truth comes out (of course), and after Marshall delivers his obligatory makes-you-think line Ã¢â‚¬â€ “Are you running to something you want, or running from something you’re afraid to want?” Ã¢â‚¬â€ the couple breaks up (of course), and a montage demonstrating how sad they are when they’re apart is accompanied by a wistful love song (of course). Then they are reunited in a public place with the whole city watching (of course), aided and abetted by the precocious kid (of course).
It’s completely contrived and fake, every bit of it, even more than you’d expect from a simple, inoffensive cookie-cutter romantic comedy. But will it appeal to the usual audience for these? Of course.
C (1 hr., 43 min.; )