In a true Christmas miracle, everything about Second Act, the new Jennifer Lopez film, manages to scream that it’s both trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Foregoing any real acting challenges once again with mediocre material, Lopez plays Maya, a long-time employee of a big-box store who is clearly qualified to run the place. She is once again passed over for a managerial job because she doesn’t have a college degree, and she is fully prepared to simply let it happen because she lacks the confidence to stand up for herself. But when her best friend Joan (Leah Remini) has her son create a fake Facebook page and social media identity for Maya, she unexpectedly hears from a major beauty supply manufacturer that is interested in hiring her as a consultant—based primarily on this giant lie of an online life.
This being Jennifer Lopez, of course she’s going to shine in the position, working for CEO Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams) and his daughter Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), who have no interest in Maya’s new ideas for improving certain product lines. What else do we learn about Maya early on? She has a long-time boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia), who seems willing to break up with her because he wants to get married and have kids, and she’s against the latter half of that plan. Why? Because unbeknownst to him, she had a baby when she was a teenager that she gave away for adoption; she’s always regretted that she had to and feels like she’d be a terrible mother as a result. And because Second Act is a movie where the personal and professional must be bound somehow, the only major things we know about Maya all come colliding in a weird orgy of unearned emotional moments and a corporate environment that could never exist in the real world.
Director Peter Segal has created a string of films that nobody really treasures (50 First Dates, The Longest Yard remake, Get Smart, Grudge Match)—feel free to debate me on this—and unfortunately, Second Act can be added to that list. Of course, Lopez has a naturally charming personality that makes you root for her even though she’s scamming her way to the top (which doesn’t seem to bother her nearly enough). That’s no judgment of her character; in fact, I feel it’s an inconsistency. Maya would want to get any job based on her merit and experience, so the fact that she jumps at this false identity doesn’t really make sense.
Clarke sets up a friendly competition between Maya and Zoe to make a certain line of products more organic but still appealing to consumers. It seems like an unnecessary means of setting up a rivalry between the two women and boosting a few comedic supporting players (including the great Charlene Yi, Dave Foley, and Larry Miller). But just because these folks have often been funny in the past doesn’t mean they’re going to add laughs to this stinker (spoiler alert: they don’t make it funnier because the material is weak). There are times when Second Act seems like nothing more than an excuse to see Lopez wear stylish business attire while getting out of sticky situations where her fake background threatens to ruin her. There is a twist in the middle of the film that is easily a Top Five eye-rolling moment of the year and is one of the film’s many attempts to generate emotions out of a contrived plot going way out of its way to make itself seem interesting and compelling. It is a whole lot of neither.
Second Act isn’t passionate enough about its themes or characters to make me hate it outright. Thankfully, Lopez and Hudgens in particular do seem to feel something about their characters to keep us mildly curious where this whole thing will land them, but I had forgotten most of the details about this movie within hours of seeing it. Hell, as I’m writing the end of this review, I’ve almost forgotten what movie I’m writing about. There are a hundred better things to see at year’s end; see all of them before you even think about catching this one.
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