Jennifer Lopez can’t act, the meatheads responsible for the stupidest screenplay of the year can’t write, and I don’t know anybody with one hour and 43 minutes to waste in a busy holiday season, so a cinematic disaster called Second Act has nothing to recommend it, even as a temporary refuge from traffic gridlock.
After slaving away for 15 years in a shopping mall franchise called Value Mart, a curvaceous clerk from Queens with ambition gets passed over for promotion because value and loyalty are less important in today’s job market than a college degree. Dejected and depressed, Maya Vargas (Jennifer Lopez) celebrates her birthday with only one candle on the cake to avoid the reality of admitting her own encroaching age, so her best friend’s teenage son, a smart aleck computer nerd, makes up a phony resume including everything from a Harvard degree to the Peace Corps. Overnight, the CEO of a major cosmetics corporation (a criminally wasted Treat Williams) offers her a fabulous consulting job in product development replete with the key to her own glass penthouse, a new wardrobe, and a credit card at Bergdorf’s.
Instead of coming clean and confessing the hoax, Maya launches a new career, dumps her long-time boyfriend (Milo Ventimiglia), and fakes her way through a bogus reputation for revolutionary skin care, shampoo, men’s grooming products, moisturizers and everything else you can paste, rub, brush, massage or slap on your face (and points south), challenging everyone else in the company by researching and developing an organic new skin cream that will change the world. The premise is preposterous, the execution unconvincing, and the direction (by Peter Segal, the no-talent hack whose previous accomplishments include such masterpieces as Naked Gun 33 and 1/3, Nutty Professor II, and 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler) the equivalent of constructing a skyscraper with Q-Tips.
Just when everything reaches an ultimate zenith in imbecility, it gets worse. J-Lo’s biggest adversary in the company is the CEO’s daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), who turns out to be the baby Maya surrendered for adoption when she was unmarried and abandoned at 16. If that doesn’t send them out of the cinema with laughter, J-Lo then invents a green beauty product made from the leaves of a Japanese gingko plant her father brought home to Queens after he bombed Hiroshima.
When the truth finally comes out, she loses her job (in spite of the fact that she saves the company with a $63-million profit) and her daughter, who leaves the country to study art (in spite of the fact that her birth mother writes her a gushing love letter saying “when I grow up I want to be just like you”). The line worked better in 1981 when Neil Simon wrote it for Marsha Mason to say to Kristy McNichol in Only When I Laugh. (The alleged screenplay, plagiarism and all, is by Justin Zackham and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, who should throw away their word processors.)
I’m afraid nothing works in Second Act, including the attempt to show how rough it is for women in the competitive work force. It’s the kind of fiasco that believes it’s OK to give birth to a baby, turn it over to child welfare without any attempt to give it a home, then never try to find it again—but much worse to commit the unforgivable sin of lying about your computer skills.