REVIEW: Second Act is merely a poor man's Working Girl for the latest lame J. Lo workplace romantic romp
Didn't fluffy-minded workplace rom-coms lose their luster in the late 1980's? One would not think so given the emergence of another Jennifer Lopez marshmallow vehicle in the millennium-age Working Girl knockoff Second Act. Rest assure that neither Working Girl collaborators in Oscar-nominated star Melanie Griffith or late director Mike Nichols will lose sleep over filmmaker Peter Segal's ("Grudge Match", "Get Smart") slapdish copycat that just quite does not have the cohesiveness or clever wit to elevate this sluggish blue-collar vs. corporate romancer to its credible core. Contrived, patchy, and meandering, Second Act cannot solve the lingering mystery behind J Lo's penchant for queasy comedy romances that have butchered her film career from duds such as Maid in America to Monster-in-Law (the horrible Gigi not withstanding).
Screenwriters Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas need a second act of their own if they could not concoct a decent script that rips off the aforementioned Working Girl and other anecdotal rom-coms equiped with the familiar blueprint of feminine stagnation both in love and business. No doubt J Lo's inherent charm and sex appeal are alluring to the rom-com genre. Unfortunately, the feeble material never allows Lopez to stretch and get out of the safety zone of the tepid trappings this flimsy fable has to offer about female working stiffs in big city employment politics. If your turn-ons include sophomoric situations, clunky dialogue, empty-minded high education swagger, and schmaltzy albeit symbolic mother-daughter bonding then Second Act is indeed your cup of H2O right from the office's water cooler.
Lopez plays Queens-bred Maya Vargas, a 40-year old assistant manager at the Value Shop supermarket. It has been fifteen long years doing the same old thing as Maya desires advancement at her job. The chain store's clueless head honcho (veteran funny man Larry Miller) has given the latest promotion to an MBA grad from Duke University. Maya is told that her lack of college education is what is holding her back in favor of others supposedly more qualified and educated. Promotion after promotion, poor Maya is passed over more than a busy highway speedbump. This dilemma leaves the distraught assistant manager wondering what to do next?
After Maya's wishful thinking about street smarts being on the same level of book smarts, she is granted a special birthday favor courtesy of her best buddy Joan (Leah Remini). Actually, Joan's Stanford-educated son is the one providing Maya with the birthday girl miracles as he starts tinkering with her lackluster job resume. Thus, Maya Vargas's broadened identity (via social media) and educational work credentials are now christened impeccable. Now, she can claim some intelligent chops of her own that include a Harvard/Wharton schooling, Peace Corps involvement, partaking in elitist hobbies and interests, boasting multi-lingual skills, etc. Indeed, Joan's whiz kid offspring certainly makes the impressive-sounding Maya look like she can replace Wonder Woman in the Justice League of America.
Soon, Maya's newly acquired educational greatness will attract the attention of bigshot Value Store CEO supplier Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams) whose scouting methods for a talented consultant are alerted when he comes across her fake-yet-fabulous profile. Specifically, Clarke is looking for someone to headline their skin care products marketing that would lead into continued loads of profit. The catch, however, is that Maya must be in competiton with the boss's daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) in order to secure which resourceful woman can incorporate stimulating ideas to boost the skin care products. Can Maya--despite her deception--step up to the plate and tangle with her much younger competitor Zoe that has the nepotism advantage on her side? Will Maya manage to demonstrate that her tenacity for business brilliance is not necessarily predicated on holding an expensive degree from a top known university?
Sadly, the bubbly goings-on in Second Act feel rather generic and manipulative. J. Lo is game and does breathe some life into this breezy workplace wasteland of a comedy. It is too bad that her enthusiasm and radiant screen presence cannot uplift the boorish humor and pepper this comedy clunker with something fresh and feisty. The overly educated stuff shirts against Lopez's free-spirited minion Maya more than runs its predictable, stagy course.
Surprisingly, there is not much meat on the bone involving conflict between Lopez's Maya and her baseball coach boyfriend Trey (Milo Ventimiglia from TV's "This Is Us" and "Gilmore Girls" fame) that wants to commit to his better job-obsessed woman. The film misses a golden opportunity to capitalize on a determined woman's priority to conquer corporate biases at the expense of her lover's ambitions yet nothing really comes out of this precarious pickle. A subplot thrown into the mix about a long lost daughter of Maya's (via adoption)seems as if it was conjured up out of left field. The supporting players have some fun for the most part--particularly Lopez's real-life close galpal Remini. Miller, Dave Foley, and Freddie Stroma (playing Maya's thorn-in-the-side co-worker) are effectively amusing as the insufferable side piece guys although they should have been given more to do. Hudgens is a revelation in an otherwise stillborn farce.
Seemingly, Second Act drifts in different directions without concentrating on its intended pulse in portraying an empowered female well beyond her perceived work-related, underling restrictions. Lopez is defined as the sassy "Jenny from the Block". Too bad that catchy phrase has an awkward time applying to her big screen alter ego Maya in this well-meaning piece of dreck.