Maid In Manhattan

on December 13, 2002 by Michael Tunison
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How old-fashioned is the upwardly mobile romantic comedy "Maid in Manhattan"? Let's just say Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks could have used the same story outline virtually scene for scene in the '20s--and they wouldn't exactly have been breaking narrative ground then, either. Fortunately, the skillful hand of director Wayne Wang ("Smoke") and smart tailoring to the talents of indomitable star Jennifer Lopez help this housekeeping-service spin on "Pretty Woman" pump a surprising amount of fresh life into the formula.

In a role that utilizes her strong-willed presence to better effect than any since "Out of Sight," Lopez shines as hotel maid Marisa Ventura, an industrious single mom whose intelligence and professionalism have her poised to make the unusual leap from cleaning rooms to joining the management trainee program at the posh Manhattan establishment where she works. Then circumstances conspire to make U.S. Senate candidate Chris Marshall ("Red Dragon's" Ralph Fiennes in a rare light turn) mistake the heroine for a jet-set fellow guest. Smitten, Marshall becomes fixated with finding the elusive mystery woman who, unknown to him, is changing the towels and sheets in his suite when he isn't looking.

Lopez's streetwise edge and sensuous Latin beauty make her the perfect star to update Hollywood's stock storylines for the 21st century, and pairing her with the intense British thespian Fiennes is a match made in movie heaven. The heroine is written as a classic underdog with whom we can't help but sympathize, but Lopez invests her with the extra dose of dignity and quiet determination that gives her substance. While the focus is naturally on the lovers and the obstacles preventing them from getting together, Wang and "Working Girl" scribe Kevin Wade also score with several well-drawn supporting characters, including Marshall's stressed-out campaign manager ("Road to Perdition's" Stanley Tucci) and a man-hungry socialite (Natasha Richardson from "The Parent Trap") on the make for the leading man. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Tyler Posey, Marissa Patrone, Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci and Bob Hoskins. Directed by Wayne Wang. Written by Kevin Wade. Produced by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff and Deborah Schindler. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for some language/sexual references. Running time: 105 min

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