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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Second Act

Second Act is one of those romantic comedies where everyone is generally pleasant, sunny or goofy, and nothing bad ever happens to anyone.  Sure, there might be some pain in the heroine's past, perhaps a break up, and maybe there's a jerk at work for the heroine to deal with.  But, we know almost from the first frame that the pain will be resolved, the former lover still loves them, and that the jerk will get what's coming to them.  Besides, the heroine always has her best friends behind her, who like to hatch crazy schemes to help her out, and start randomly dancing to hit songs from the 80s in her kitchen.

I can understand how some people can see these movies as escapism, but unless the screenplay offers
some genuinely funny dialogue or interesting characters, I usually lose interest quickly, as was the case here.  The movie stars Jennifer Lopez (no stranger to these kind of comedies) as Maya Vargas, a 40-year-old woman who gets passed up for a promotion at the big box store that she's worked at for the past 15 years.  She feels like life has passed her by, so her best friend (Leah Remini) has her computer genius kid make up a fake resume and social media account for Maya, giving her the college education and life experiences to fool everyone into thinking that she is a credentialed corporate consultant.  Almost immediately, she is scoped out by a big cosmetics company for an executive position.  This is one of those big cosmetics companies that hand out executive positions with no background checks whatsoever that you often come across.

Naturally, Maya fits right in, and has no trouble handling her new position.  It helps that her new boss (Treat Williams) is so sunny, kind and pleasant that he never once questions Maya, and never notices when she flounders at certain times.  She also finds herself in competition with the boss' daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), who starts out as her rival, but they quickly learn they have much more in common in more ways than one.  The relationship between the Lopez and Hudgens characters tries to add a dramatic, or at least sympathetic, spin to the movie.  This is constantly betrayed by the screenplay's desire to surround this serious subplot with a lot of goofy outside characters, like Maya's silly co-workers, and her over the top girlfriends.

Because of this, Second Act never settles on a tone or what it wants to be.  The plot goes in so many directions, and each scene takes on a different tone, that we eventually feel like director Peter Segal (a veteran comedy director dating back to 1995's Tommy Boy) doesn't have a handle on what kind of movie he thinks he's making.  There are some good scenes throughout, most of them concerning the previously mentioned relationship between Lopez and Hudgens.  In particular, Hudgens seems to be giving this material much more than it deserves with her performance.  But then, the movie will change tones, and suddenly switch to slapstick like Lopez tripping over herself as she walks away from her old job, or the corporate jerk being knocked into a Christmas tree, and having it fall on top of him.  There are also Maya's two oddball co-workers (played by Charlyne Yi and Alan Aisenberg), who seem to have wandered in from a completely different movie, and never quite fit in this one.

This is a nice enough movie, but it is not a funny or interesting one.  Jennifer Lopez can be an interesting actress to watch, and has proven so in films like Out of Sight or Selena.  But here, she's basically required to smile, be kind, and maybe have a tender moment, all the while never really coming close to building a real character.  She's simply playing to expectations here, when anyone could tell you going beyond what the audience expects is always more interesting and fun.

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