'Second Act': Film Review

A new J.Low.
12/21/2018

Jennifer Lopez climbs the corporate ladder in an amateurish workplace comedy that also stars Vanessa Hudgens, Milo Ventimiglia and Leah Remini.

Life, as a certain Yasujiro Ozu heroine once observed, is disappointing. That's certainly the case for the luckless lead character of the godawful workplace comedy Second Act. Jennifer Lopez plays Maya, a middle-aged big-box store employee passed over for a promotion because she never finished high school. She lives with a doting boyfriend, Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), who wants to start a family despite her reluctance, which puts their relationship under strain. Maya can't bear to tell him the real reason for her doubts: She gave up a baby daughter for adoption many years ago. Remember that plot point — it's important!

First thing's first. At a surprise celebration hosted by her wisecracking best friend Joan (Leah Remini), Maya makes a birthday wish for her innate "street smarts" to be more valued. Jenny from the Block asks, Jenny from the Block receives. Joan's tech-savvy stepson Dilly (Dalton Harrod) secretly reworks Maya's social media presence and résumé. Suddenly, she's an Ivy League graduate and Peace Corps alumna whose faux-vita catches the eye of Anderson Clarke (Treat Williams), CEO of a cosmetics corporation attempting to rebrand.

Anderson's adopted daughter (note that I said adopted daughter) Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens) also works at the firm and becomes Maya's main competition in the creation of a new organically sourced beauty product line. Again, she's adopted. I'm sure that's not a particularly significant detail.

Very significant, however, is the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. It seems there was a certain kind of tree that survived the fiery mushroom cloud, and Maya just happens to have an offshoot of that particular flora, from which her new sun-resistant product can be sourced. Yes, this is a plot point in the screenplay by Justin Zackham (The Bucket List) and veteran producer and Lopez collaborator Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas.

What else can I tell you? Uh, there's a musical number set to Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" — can't say it's real good. J.Lo looks movie-star fabulous in her many form-fitting dresses. A scene involving a box full of doves set loose in Central Park climaxes with the birds exploding on impact after they crash into a passing semi. That's hardly up to director Peter Segal's usual high standards, his apex being the poop missile-discharging giant hamster in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.

No one scene flows smoothly into the next. Almost every dramatic crisis is resolved via a pop music-scored montage. At one point, Charlyne Yi, playing Maya's vertigo-suffering assistant Ariana, confesses her love of "kinky" sex. Naughty. Oh, and Hudgens' character turns out to have a secret talent for photography that would shame Richard Avedon.

If there are any Dadaist cinephiles out there, perhaps they can reclaim Second Act as a multilayered masterpiece of illogic. Certainly the film seems destined to survive all future nuclear winters, enduring as a time capsule of humanity at its most pitiably pedestrian.

Production companies: STX Entertainment
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Milo Ventimiglia, Leah Remini, Treat Williams, Charlyne Yi, Dave Foley, Larry Miller, Annaleigh Ashford, Dalton Harrod

Director: Peter Segal
Screenplay: Justin Zackham, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas
Producers: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Jennifer Lopez, Benny Medina, Justin Zackham
Executive producer: Peter Segal
Director of photography: Ueli Steiger
Production designer: Richard Hoover
Costume designer: Molly Rogers
Music: Michael Andrews
Editor: Jason Gourson
Casting: Roger Mussenden

Rated PG-13, 103 minutes