When I first starting working, I happened to mention to my boss at the time that I had recently watched a Korean TV show and had understood a few things that the people were saying. (I had spent a month in South Korea in 1988 and I have a good ear for languages.) Little did I know at the time that my boss wrote in my personnel file that I was fluent in Korean! I found out a few months later when the president’s secretary called me to say that her boss needed me to entertain some Korean buyers that night because, according to their database, I was the only person in the company who could speak Korean. A similar situation happens to Maya Vargas (Jennifer Lopez) in the film, SECOND ACT, except she has the benefit of modern technology to save the day. I had to wing it alone but I’m happy to say that my evening with the Koreans was a complete success too, though my secret weapons were quite a lot of alcohol and a couple of thick steaks from Alberta.
Back to Maya though, before she’s out entertaining foreign customers on the company’s tab, she’s an assistant manager at a big-box store in Queens, New York. She’s implemented some great ideas at the store and she certainly knows her stuff but because she only has her GED, her employers pass her over for promotion in favour of a corporate dweeb with an MBA. On her 40th birthday, she makes a wish that she lived in a world where street smarts equal book smarts and, with that, her BFF Joan (real-life BFF Leah Remini, TV’s THE KING OF QUEENS and KEVIN CAN WAIT) gets her computer-savvy son, Dilly (Dalton Harrod, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST), to “tweak” Maya’s résumé and send it out to companies that could use her expertise. Dilly, however, goes a bit overboard with the task and Maya is now a Wharton MBA who has climbed Kilimanjaro and knows the Obamas. She immediately gets offered a high-profile position (without the requisite background check, it should be noted) that comes with all the perks at a Procter & Gamble-like company where her first assignment is to develop a new line of popular and profitable, fully organic skin care products. Her bigger challenge, though, is to do that in competition with the president’s daughter, Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens, the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL series), make sure no one at work finds out that her résumé is a fraud, and keep her relationship with her boyfriend of five years, amateur baseball coach Trey (Milo Ventimiglia, CREED II; TV’s THIS IS US), alive.
If you think you’ve seen Jennifer Lopez in this role before, yes, you have. SECOND ACT is basically WORKING GIRL meets MAID IN MANHATTAN. (Interestingly, Lopez’s character in MAID has the same initials – M.V.) There are no surprises to be found here except for a huge one in the middle of the second act that throws a wet blanket on pretty much everything that comes after it. I guess in 2019 it’s not enough to be a woman who has to balance career and love. All I’m going to say about it is that it was a huge mistake on the writers’ part. Unfortunately, that wasn’t their only mistake though. For anyone who has ever worked in marketing (and I have!), it was very clear that Justin Zackham (THE BUCKET) and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas don’t have a clue how new products come to market. Why spend money on a focus group when you can stand outside a cosmetics shop and survey people who walk by? Why do market segmentation analysis when you can sell to everyone the same way? Why bother with spreadsheets when you can pull forecast numbers out of your derrière? Okay, I’m being pedantic but director Peter Segal (50 FIRST DATES; ANGER MANAGEMENT) seems more concerned with how Lopez looks with her flat ironed hair, nude lipstick and curve-hugging pencil dresses than with any sense of realism. With the exception of Remini’s brilliant sassiness, most of the humour here comes from broad Queens and Manhattan stereotypes, foul-mouthed children (which seems to be a “thing” these days having just seen INSTANT FAMILY) and some schadenfreude over a flock of doves.
This is not a horrible film though. It’s just that, like Maya’s new skin care product, SECOND ACT is very safe. If that’s your thing, then you’ll enjoy it just fine.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 25th at 8:30 am HK time!
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