GIVE ME a second before I start reviewing "Maid in Manhattan," the newest -- but not necessarily freshest -- twist on the Cinderella story starring Jennifer Lopez as a sassy maid from the projects and Ralph Fiennes as the handsome hotel guest she falls in love with. I'm just trying to recall the last time I rented a room in New York City (heck, anywhere, for that matter) where a member of the housekeeping staff looked that bootylicious. Ah, now I remember: Never.
Ah well. Chalk it up to Hollywood fantasia and the parallel universe where hookers look like Julia Roberts (who, by the way, was originally pitched the part of the maid but turned it down) and where nobody in the working class ever gets bunions.
Maybe it's just that I'm not staying in expensive enough lodgings. You know, the kind where the hotel staff leaves lavender nosegays on your pillow and a British butler who looks like Bob Hoskins pours your cappuccino for you -- and makes sure your wife doesn't run into your mistress in the lobby -- all for a $50 tip.
That's the kind of place Marisa (Lopez) works. A single mom who hopes to one day graduate from the toilet-brush brigade to middle management, Marisa makes the stupid mistake (or, in this movie, the very canny career move) of trying on a $5,000 Dolce & Gabbana outfit belonging to a woman staying at the hotel (Natasha Richardson, in a deliciously hoity-toity turn) while she is cleaning her room. J. Lo and behold: Suddenly out of uniform, Marisa is mistaken for a fellow guest by Christopher Marshall (Fiennes), a prettyboy politico also staying at the hotel.
Marisa's soon swooning under the spell of Christopher's twinkly eyes and dream-date smile. Afraid that she'll lose her job if she is exposed as a thieving domestic, she lets him woo her. In fact, she sneaks off the job for a lengthy stroll through the Central Park Zoo, where the aspiring senator's charm quickly wins her over, despite the fact that she's a prole with a chip on her shoulder about the haves and the have-nots and he's an upper-crust Republican.
Let me pause here to get something else off my chest. I'm no fan of the prince-rescues-maiden-from-drudgery trope, so anything that smacks of this fairy-tale shtick, even when dressed up with a little class-war garnish, is hard to swallow. Let's face it. Even as slickly directed by Wayne Wang from a script by Kevin Wade (based on a story by Edmond Dantes, a "Count of Monte Cristo"-inspired pseudonym for filmmaker John Hughes), "Maid" is still little more than a bedtime story for 12-year-old girls.
That being said, Lopez isn't half bad. Her Marisa is tough and tender and feels real enough, even for a movie that is spun out of such Harlequin hogwash. Fiennes does a nice American accent too for a Brit, but he isn't given much else to do besides looking and sounding good. I guess that's why he was cast as a politician. And what the heck -- any film whose supporting cast includes, in addition to Hoskins, Stanley Tucci (playing Christopher's high-strung spin doctor-cum-campaign manager), and the always loopy Amy Sedaris (as a stuck-up socialite sporting a tanning booth patina so deep she appears to have been baked in the oven) can't be all bad.
MAID IN MANHATTAN (PG-13, 103 minutes) -- Contains sexual references. Area theaters.