Shoe doesn't quite fit

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

"Maid in Manhattan" is being promoted with such hoopla that you'd think it's a very exciting movie.

But the picture's big virtue is that it's not particularly exciting at all. It's quiet and modest, like the main character, spinning its simple story without a lot of fuss and bother.

If there were more chemistry between stars Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes, it would be one of the season's more refreshing surprises. As it stands, it's a diverting trifle that will amuse you while it's on the screen, then fade from memory while the final credits roll.

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Lopez plays a single mother who cleans up after guests in a fashionable hotel while dreaming of a better life she doesn't really believe she'll ever have. Fiennes plays a rising politician who courts her after mistaking her for someone else, sweeping her into his arms after a series of misadventures and gaffes.

If this sounds like "Cinderella," you're right. If it sounds like "Pretty Woman," you're right again, although Lopez's down-to-earth allure comes from a different Hollywood universe than Julia Roberts's coltish charm.

The movie was directed by Wayne Wang, whose films range from the adventurous "Chan Is Missing" to the lackluster "Joy Luck Club." He keeps the action moving smoothly, and has the good sense to make Manhattan itself one of the picture's most prominent attractions.

I doubt "Maid in Manhattan" will come close to "Pretty Woman" at the box office, but it should boost Lopez's faltering film career and give Fiennes new momentum as a romantic star. Also good are Stanley Tucci as the politico's assistant, Natasha Richardson as a stuck-up hotel guest, and Bob Hoskins as a dignified butler. All help make this a pleasant experience, if not the dazzling entertainment Lopez fans were hoping for.

Rated PG-13; contains brief nudity and innuendo.

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