Trading Spaces

The woman behind me at Maid in Manhattan lamented having seen too many serious movies lately. "I am ready for some pure entertainment." She wanted Eliza Doolittle on the JumboTron, and she wanted it now.

No, we're not the jet set. We're the old-Chevrolet set. Our Preston Sturges is Sorkin on Percocets. Or something. Anyway, she's not asking for much: a dolled-up heroine, a serviceably diverting plot, some delightful ping-ponging Jane Austen-style banter.

And though the most current J.Lo-bot may not, as a friend of mine insists, have much DNA in common with the Ava Gardner-esque Jennifer Lopez of yore, this Pretty Woman plot is foolproof: Sassy round-the-way Bronx mom-maid Marisa is in the Waldorf penthouse bopping around in a guest's clothes (that's what maids do; haven't you seen Blue Crush?), when she meets a brilliant senatorial candidate (Ralph Fiennes) who is taken with her precocious son and mistakes her for a, well, rich person. Thereafter, though he seems charmed by her candor, she must hide her identity to keep him.

Her love don't cost a thing: J.Lo and Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan.
photo: Barry Wetcher
Her love don't cost a thing: J.Lo and Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan.

Details

Maid in Manhattan
Directed by Wayne Wang
Written by Kevin Wade
Columbia
In release

The Hot Chick
Directed by Tom Brady
Written by Brady & Rob Schneider
Touchstone
In release

Problem is, there really isn't any dialogue here that suggests that Marisa is truly sassy, or charming, or candid, or that the would-be senator is either brilliant or senatorial, or that her accent-less son is not simply on loan from Hogwarts. Instead we get absurd lines like Marisa's pal's urging, "When are we gonna get to try on a $5000 anything?" Apparently maids can't shop in designer stores. And why didn't some continuity person cry foul at Marisa's waxing and waning knowledge of rain-in-Spain protocol? She rattles off haute-style advice to a guest one minute and the next is confounded by the prospect of table setting (don't worry, the requisite floh-ah but-lah knows the drill).

The relentless, vaguely Latin guitar score doesn't help any, but the basic chemistry's so limp between Lopez—whose expressions toggle from lost to exasperated to blue-steel—and the Prozac-frozen Fiennes that her 30-second Cinderella night spin with sleazy campaign manager Stanley Tucci generates a shocking jolt of frisson. And really, any wit at all would have helped balance the playful but crass butt-seeking money shots. When Lopez protects her "borrowed" ivory coat from park bench scuffing by sitting on a magazine, she notices Fiennes on the cover, and exclaims, "Oh, I almost sat on your face!" The camera races rumpward, as she asks Fiennes, "Is it OK?" His answer: "It's perfect."


But if J.Lo makes us all wish we were hot chicks, Rob Schneider's Adam Sandler-produced The Hot Chick is enough to make any woman or gay man wish they could beam themselves to planet Zoltron. This lady-looks-like-a-dude story begins with an ancient curse that flips the bods of ugly old creep Schneider and a SoCal babe. This allows Schneider to prance around in mock-girly disgust and act repeatedly shocked when people assume "she" is (gasp!) a gay man, the worst possible fate except, you know, actually being a woman. The cast, save the charisma-free Schneider, is uniformly hilarious, and deserves classier high jinks than this Juwanna Tootsie roll.

 
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