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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 10.0° F  Fair
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Maid in Manhattan

"I almost sat on your face," Jennifer Lopez says to Ralph Fiennes in a scene from Maid in Manhattan, where he plays a senatorial candidate staying in a ritzy hotel and she plays the woman who changes his sheets. They're walking in Central Park, and J. Lo, wearing a Dolce & Gabbana coat that she temporarily borrowed from another hotel guest, starts to sit down on a bench. But a Dolce & Gabbana coat shouldn't come in contact with a park bench, so she steers her internationally famous bottom toward a magazine that happens to have a smiling Fiennes on the cover. And I guarantee you that, if there'd been any men at the screening I attended ' actually, there was one, and he sat way in the back, by himself ' they'd have been smiling, too.

Lopez rarely unleashes her most powerful weapon in this modern-day Cinderella story. Nor, except very briefly, does she let her hair down. Instead, she goes with her eyes, which can shift almost imperceptibly from princess to pauper. Having lived her own up-from-the-Bronx Cinderella story, Lopez knows that we want to see her ride in the carriage without forgetting it's a pumpkin. And Maid in Manhattan is designed to appease that almost contradictory desire. For instance, she looks positively smashing in her maid's uniform. And even after meeting the prince, her character ' a single mom named Marisa ' plans to go into hotel management. Lopez, lest we forget, is a woman who's pulled herself up by her own bootystraps.

And that's what makes Maid in Manhattan something more than just a wish-fulfillment fantasy. This is a Cinderella who only wants to attend the ball. After that, she's quite content to work hard for the money. Then, oops, she falls in love with the prince, which is a little difficult to believe since Fiennes doesn't exactly pour on the charm. As with Astaire and Rogers, he's supposed to give her class and she's supposed to give him sex appeal, but they seem to have flubbed the exchange. (And that crooked smile of his says...crook, not the message a politician wants to send.) Luckily, there are other Brits classing up the joint ' Natasha Richardson as a rich bitch who can't ever remember Marisa's name and Bob Hoskins as one of those my-lips-are-sealed butlers.

"Strive to be invisible," hotel employees are told, but how are you going to make someone like Lopez invisible? She certainly holds the screen. It may be time, though, for her to draw on some of the passion that has carried her through what will soon be three marriages. She's not an explosive actress, or a particularly interesting one. And we can't stare at her butt ' and hair and eyes and arms and legs ' forever. Or can we?

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