'Second Act': What the Critics Are Saying

Courtesy of STX Entertainment
'Second Act'

The initial batch of reviews for the Jennifer Lopez film are mixed.

The reviews are in for Peter Segal's Second Act, which stars Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens and Milo Ventimiglia.

Lopez stars as Maya Vargas, an assistant manager at a grocery store in Queens that reinvents herself to land an impressive job on Madison Avenue. While she doesn't have a degree, she believes that her street smarts are enough to help her succeed in the corporate world.

The film, which hits theaters Friday, has critics largely unenthusiastic. As of Thursday, the film had earned a 54 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. 

The Hollywood Reporter's Keith Uhlich called the film a "godawful workplace comedy." The critic noted that the movie is not up to Segal's "usual high standards" and he criticized a particular scene that shows a box full of doves that are set free in Central Park, which "climaxes with the birds exploding on impact after they crash into a passing semi." Uhlich continued, "No one scene flows smoothly into the next. Almost every dramatic crisis is resolved via a pop music-scored montage."

IndieWire's Kate Erbland pointed out the similarities between Second Act and Lopez's 2002 film Maid in Manhattan, in which she played a maid that is introduced to a world of luxury after she is mistaken for a socialite. "Whereas Maid in Manhattan took its Cinderella premise to predictable ends, Second Act isn’t content to let Lopez’s striving Maya (also confusingly known as Maria on occasion, one of many minor subplots that goes unexplained) zoom through the rarefied ranks of the business world, proving to everyone that street smarts are just as good as book smarts," she wrote. The critic said that Lopez's performance "is charming enough," though she called Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas’ screenplay "deranged." 

The review from Wesley Morris for The New York Times was also largely negative. "A movie like this plays to none of Lopez’s strengths," he wrote. The review focused on how the actress deserves a role in a film that exerts "even some of the same confidence and competence" of her previous pics, which Second Act does not. Morris also said that the plot twist that has been kept under wraps was predictable. "I never see plot twists coming, but this one made me feel like Nostradamus," he wrote.

Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson wrote positively about Lopez's performance. While he agreed that the plot twist took the film in an unexpected direction, he gave Second Act as slightly more positive review. He noted that the movie touched on the "valuable" subjects of race, class and gender. "Lopez sails through with her natural charm, while New York gleams in director Peter Segal’s loving attention," he wrote, adding that the plot twist in the pic "turns the movie from something relatively buoyant, cheery even, into pure melodrama. Even so, Second Act tries to maintain the airy energy that animates its first half, which makes the reveal stand in even stranger contrast." 

However, Emily Yoshida from Vulture wrote that Second Act follows in the footsteps of other new romantic comedies from 2018 that attempted to make audiences nostalgic for the genre. "Second Act is a strange, scattered attempt to cash in on that longing, and it doesn’t seem to know what its own deal is aside from a rushed vision board collage of Things Women Are Probably Worried About," she wrote. "It sends so many mixed messages over the course of its 104 minutes that it probably succeeds in its true goal: to give off the general patina of something that could ostensibly be all things to all women." The critic concluded, "The movie simply doesn’t know what it aspires to — it knows it believes in true love and career satisfaction, but it also needs to tip its hat to something that could be considered feminism if you squinted hard enough."

The review by Michael Phillips from the Chicago Tribune called the film "a weak mashup" of Working Girl and Maid in Manhattan. "Here’s the quickie review: Good cast, nearly hopeless script," he wrote. Phillips said that the actors did the best that they could with the script, particularly [Charlyne] Yi, who he said "has a way of finding laughs where there are none on paper." He concluded, "Lopez remains a true movie star, but it’s hard to work up a full head of rooting-interest steam since Second Act is fundamentally the story of someone who takes forever to come clean."

Rafer Guzman from Newsday wrote that the film does not reach its full potential. He said that the plot twist that many critics tried not to spoil makes the pic wobble "unevenly between comedy and weeper." He added that while the plot has "all the right puzzle pieces," the execution of the movie does not bring it all together. He concluded, "Though occasionally amusing and mostly watchable, Second Act feels disappointing. Lopez — and Maya — deserves better."

CNN's Brian Lowry also offered a relatively positive review. He said that "cute" is the best word to describe the film. "The movie frankly feels like three stories in one — without fully servicing any of them — but skates by, barely, on the strength of Lopez's charm and some amusing supporting players," he wrote. Lowry said that while Second Act can often get lost between its different plotlines, "the side characters actually produce a handful of laughs."