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" A woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets "
— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

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Maid in Manhatan aspires only to be a nice, plastic, Hollywood romance. It aims for mediocrity and hits the middle of the target.

Pretty Woman Re-Maid

Fiennes takes J Lo once around the park
Fiennes takes J Lo once around the park

It’s been fifteen years since Richard Gere rode to Julia Roberts’ rescue in Pretty Woman and Revolution Studios figured it was time for a reminder. Instead of Gere and Roberts, the new generation gets Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez.

Marisa (Lopez) is a maid at a five-star hotel in Manhattan. Dared by her friend, she tries on a guest’s $5,000 outfit. At that exact moment, a very handsome and powerful man walks into the room.

Chris Marshall (Fiennes) is the heir-apparent to the New York senate seat once held by his father. Chris is a Kennedy-esque playboy, and as fate would have it, he’s breaking up with his girlfriend.

Chris is immediately struck by Marisa’s beauty, particularly in her gorgeous outfit. Marisa allows Chris to think she’s a guest, not a maid, and together they take a nice long walk through Central Park, just the five of them: Marisa, Chris, her son, his dog, and the paparazzo.

The next day, Marisa goes back to her life as a maid, grateful she wasn’t caught. But Chris has become obsessed. He tells his handlers (led by the ever-entertaining Stanley Tucci) to track down the beautiful woman whom he believes is a guest at the Beresford hotel.

The misunderstanding lends itself to a handful of funny and charming scenes, and the paparazzo’s pictures add the requisite comedic chaos to the plot. Eventually, the movie reaches its inevitable feel-good ending.

Kiss the Autopilot

One of the biggest draws for Maid in Manhatan will be the presence of Jennifer Lopez, who hasn’t had this prominent a leading role since Out of Sight. And while she is as beautiful as ever, her role asks very little of her except that she show up and look beautiful. The same can be said for Ralph Fiennes. Indeed, both leads bring good looks and charisma to the screen. But neither is put to the test as an actor.

Acting or otherwise, there is very little room for individual effort in Maid in Manhatan. It runs like clockwork. It flies on autopilot. It doesn’t require — or even want — anything as unpredictable as an outstanding performance or technical filmmaking skill. This movie insists on following procedure and it doesn’t need any mavericks breaking the rules.

Because it sticks to a successful, tested formula, Maid in Manhatan does nothing to disappoint. Nobody in the cast or on the crew fails miserably. Then again, nobody was allowed to accomplish anything noteworthy, either.

Little Flaws and Little Praise

There are some bright moments in the movie, but most of them are compromised in one way or another. The mother/son friendship between Marisa and Ty (Tyler Garcia Posey) is joyful, although Ty’s part is badly written. He delivers two speeches that sound more like they came from a middle-aged screenwriter than a 12 year old kid.

Director Wayne Wang locks his camera on Bob Hoskins during Hoskins’ biggest scene. The shot feels like Wang’s tribute to a favorite, respected actor. But the scene is a schmaltzy tearjerker and even Hoskins can’t save the moment from its writing.

In addition, half a dozen scenes throughout the film were ruined by overplayed, heavy-handed music. Nice moments of simple emotion are drowned out by a swelling symphony.

Conclusion

On the whole, Maid in Manhatan accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s a feel-good romantic comedy and a vehicle for Jennifer Lopez. If that’s all you’re looking for, consider this a recommendation. But with so many other great movies coming out this season, consider something with more substance before you go get Maid.