2018, PG-13, 103 min. Directed by Peter Segal. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, Treat Williams, Milo Ventimiglia.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 4, 2019
Inoffensive and unremarkable, Second Act is culled from the remainder bin of late-Nineties, early-Aughts hidden identity/wish fulfillment rom-coms along the lines of Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan. For a certain segment of the moviegoing audience this might well feel like cinematic comfort food, but for others it will bring to mind older but far better films that have withstood the test of time, albeit with freakishly dated hairstyles. Working Girl is what came to my mind, but this mediocre mash-up of hoary genre tropes is about as far away from Mike Nichols, or Elaine May for that matter, as you can get. Granted, it's breezy enough in a retro-chic kind of way, but the meh factor is too high to overcome for all but the hardiest of J-Lo die-hards.
Here she’s cast as Queens-to-the-core Maya, a street-wise Jenny from the block-cum-aspirational go-get-'em girl who’s passed over for promotion at her relatively lowly retail gig, but ends up falling into her dream job nonetheless. That’d be working in the upper echelon of Treat Williams’ high-end cosmetics conglomerate. This unlikely plot contrivance is set in motion when her godson sets her up with a faux background story chock-full o’ BS, photoshopping her into pics of the Obamas on her Facebook page and upgrading her GED into a Harvard MBA and a stint in the Peace Corps. Naturally, someone at corporate senses this new employee’s résumé is a bit too perfect, especially after Maya comes up with an organic, ginkgo-based emollient that’s just too good to be true. As it turns out, a literal second-act revelation throws a spanner in the works of what otherwise might have been a trenchant and timely tale of shattered glass ceilings and female empowerment. Naturally, Maya has a secret in her Lifetime Movie of the Week past that threatens even more grrrl power emotional chaos.
On the plus side, Lopez remains eminently watchable and her real-life bestie Remini, on hand to play Maya’s celluloid gal pal Joan, adds a certain zip and zing to an otherwise scattershot tale. Screenwriters Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas hit all of the patented Cinderella story beats with the subtlety of a sledgehammer hitting a makeup compact. That includes the requisite dance sequence, makeover montage, and “to thine own 'hood be true” message. Admittedly it’s a – just shoot me now – treat to see the underutilized Williams, former Prince of the City, off of the television and on the big screen again, but that’s cold comfort for non-J-Lovers who aren’t particularly impressed by Second Act’s jerry-built storyline contortions. I’d almost go so far as to say you’d be better off renting epic fail Gigli for the sheer weirdness of it. Almost.