Maid in Manhattan is yet another take on the Cinderella story. There are very few surprises but the film is still somewhat enjoyable despite its predictable setup. Cinderella aka Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hardworking no-nonsense single mom who loves her son Ty (Tyler Posey) and dreams of breaking out of her job as a maid at a five-star hotel in Manhattan. Her Fairy Godmother aka co-worker Stephanie (Marissa Matrone) unwittingly gives her that chance when she convinces Marisa to try on some expensive clothes left in a suite by the Evil Stepsister aka spoiled socialite Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson) while they're cleaning. In walks Prince Charming aka Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) an incredibly handsome U.S. senator candidate and the city's most eligible bachelor and Boom! sparks fly. Chris thinks Marisa is the expensive suite's occupant--and she's too overwhelmed by the domino effect that happens to tell him different. Ah what a tangled web love at first sight can weave. Marisa spends the rest of the movie trying to cover up her error in judgment while also becoming increasingly drawn to her prince. Will he find out who she really is? Of course. Will it matter in the end? Of course not.
This may have been created as another vehicle to help further propel the career of actress/singer/designer/fiancee to Ben Affleck J. Lo but unexpectedly someone else comes out of the film looking better--Fiennes. It's little hard even for Jenny on the Block to outshine an Oscar-nominated actor. He elevates the formulaic subject matter and portrays a pretty down-to-earth Prince Charming without us ever seeing a forced move. I'm curious as to why such a high-caliber actor would choose such a run-of-the-mill project like this but whatever the reason he makes it work--at least for his part. Lopez doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. In fact it looks like she may have simply cloned the same expressions she put on in her other successful romantic comedy The Wedding Planner. And unfortunately Lopez and Fiennes don't share the same kind of heat she shared in that film with Matthew McConaughey or even George Clooney in Out of Sight (still her best performance to date). Yet they manage to convey a fair amount of good feelings to make the movie palatable. Richardson has a blast playing the rich bitch Caroline while Matrone making her film debut just comes off as annoying and pushy even if she thinks she's doing the right thing. Thank goodness she is because if things had turned out badly it would be in Marisa's best interest to go out and shoot her. Stanley Tucci as Christopher's watchdog campaign manager and Bob Hoskins as a senior-level butler at the hotel both do the best they can with silly parts.
Maid in Manhattan relies so heavily on the been-there-done-that Cinderella formula it becomes one of those romantic comedies you'll end up waiting to watch on cable one Saturday night rather than paying to see in a movie theater. It's really a shame because director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) had some interesting elements to play with and lots of acting talent to back it up. Perhaps Lopez could have played Marisa more wacky than so serious maybe try to show some comic ability. It would be a nice change of pace to think out of the box for once--what if the lovestruck pair didn't get together in the end? (I know the film would have fallen flat on its face.) But instead Maid wallows in predictability and implausibility. Christopher falls a little too hard and a little too fast for reality. Also it's hard to believe a maid would have access to all the hotel's amenities as Marisa does--borrowing a Harry Winston diamond necklace from the hotel jewelry store for the gala event? Unlikely to say the least. The only aspect of the film that stands out is the sneak peek you get into the inner workings of a top-notch hotel. It's definitely a world you don't get to see very often.
Twenty years later the world is a giant mess. Nothing we humans did could stop those pesky dragons and now they've eaten just about everything there is. In other words the dragons are starving--and desperate. Quinn (Christian Bale) has grown up to become the fire chief and leader of a small community of survivors living in an abandoned castle outside of London. He and right-hand man Creedy (Gerard Butler) keep the peace as they hunker down trying to outlast the dragons. But the hungry dragons attack often and the survivor numbers are dwindling. In comes the cavalry in the form of hotshot American Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and his small band of soldiers including helicopter pilot Alex (Izabella Scorupco) looking for reinforcements. Seems Van Zan can slay the beasts in a way Quinn has never seen before and has a plan to hunt down the sole male dragon that Quinn woke up years before. Killing it will stop the dragons from populating--forever. This is when the story gets interesting as the two leaders butt heads literally and figuratively. Quinn believes Van Zan's plan is a suicide mission and won't risk his men while Van Zan is too full of himself to realize the inherent dangers. Still the two must somehow come together to make the plan work--it is the only way to save mankind.
McConaughey and Bale make a formidable pair in Reign of Fire especially the buff bald and bearded McConaughey. He is full of quiet bravado as Van Zan and shows us some of those acting skills we all know he possesses. McConaughey has a particularly powerful moment when Van Zan chastises a group of survivors celebrating the slaying of one dragon. He tells the crowd he lost three men while killing the beast and doesn't think drinking and dancing are in order. It's a good scene reminiscent of his courtroom summation in A Time to Kill. The film however really belongs to Bale who is also bearded but not nearly as buff and certainly more soulful than his counterpart. The guilt courses through Quinn as he tries to justify why he won't allow anyone under his charge to go out and fight back. His motivation is understandable but when Quinn realizes he has to go above and beyond to save mankind Bale measures up. For an action-hero role Bale plays it refreshingly intellectual. Butler is also quite good as Quinn's best friend Creedy adding a light touch to the otherwise dark story. Scorupco is a tough chick but doesn't get a lot to work with unlike her male co-stars.
Emmy-winning television director Rob Bowman (The X-Files) chooses as his first foray into feature films this apocalyptic story in which dragons have taken over the world--and has decided to concentrate more on the story than the special effects. OK that's admirable but darn it the movie poster for Reign of Fire shows us the money shot: dragons annihilating London with Black Hawk helicopters buzzing around trying to stop them. And unfortunately that is not in the movie. Sure the story is compelling. The conflict between Van Zan and Quinn is a classic tete-a-tete in which each has to experience great loss before they can come together to fight as one. It works mostly although it drags a little in the middle. The climactic ending didn't pay off nearly as well as it could have either. Still the movie leaves you sort of wishing for one of those Independence Day scenes where there are thousands of dragons fighting us wee humans. What Reign of Fire does instead is deal with only a few dragons at a time and the special effects do not disappoint. One of the better scenes is when we see exactly how Van Zan and his team manage to kill one of the dragons using human parachutists as bait. Also seeing the big bad male dragon attacking the castle is spectacular. It's a thrill ride for sure if only it had just a little more thrill and less exposition.