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Never Enough 

Director Michael Apted must like strong women. The females in his films don't always win, but they always make war and they never, ever know their place. The projects he chooses to affiliate himself with showcase Amazonian talents in quietly Herculean roles: Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist), Madeleine Stowe (Blink), Jodie Foster (Nell), Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner's Daughter). Enough already.

It's obvious to all that Apted's latest star, Jennifer Lopez, wants to quietly add her name to such an A-list; she's made surprisingly smart choices, a quiet confidence and onscreen dignity enhancing her fledgling -- and promising -- acting abilities. She's very aware of what roles she accepts (and what roles she'll be accepted doing), and she's determined not to play the fool. So far, so good. Lopez sizzled in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, matching George Clooney's cocksure swagger with her own sassy smugness. And she's provided a steady anchor for other interesting-if-not-astonishing outings, including The Cell, The Wedding Planner and Angel Eyes. J Lo hasn't made a serious cinematic misstep yet; audiences can't help but get the feeling she's biding her time in the bush leagues, developing skills and waiting for that one juicy role, a la early Julia Roberts.

Enough is not that role for Lopez, but the movie serves its purpose in Lopez's big picture, much the same way Sleeping With the Enemy factored into Julia's. One can't sit through Enough without drawing comparisons between the two films, the respective career arcs of their two stars being the most positive. As a movie, Enough is little more than an aggressive version of Sleeping With the Enemy; it won't be remembered once it leaves the box office, but one day Lopez's performance will, as just another solid step in her journey up the Hollywood food chain.

Lopez plays Slim, a gum-smacking waitress who's had a hard life but isn't going to cry on anybody's shoulder about it. Then one day, into her diner comes the marvelous Mitch (Billy Campbell), healthy, wealthy and nice. Or so he seems. It's a marriage made in heaven for a year or two, until Slim finds out her husband's getting physical with another woman; she confronts him, and he gets physical with her in a wholly different fashion, making it clear there's plenty more where that came from.

God forbid that the system should ever actually be fixed to work in a battered woman's favor; whatever would exploitative Hollywood, not to mention the Lifetime channel, do? Slim turns to the only family she's got (Mitch's) and then to the cops; in a probably all-too-realistic scenario, both treat her only slightly less harshly than her punch-happy husband. Her friends (Juliette Lewis, happily relegated to a minimizing supporting role, and Christopher Maher) help her escape with daughter Gracie (Tessa Allen) when it becomes clear that Mitch's world view doesn't include divorce. It does, however, include punching his wife, confiscating her car keys and driver's license, and then barefooting around the house in the middle of the night to jump out of the shadows and grab her by the hair when she tries to flee.

The core of Enough is Slim's slow awakening to her inner Rocky Balboa. For much of the movie, she simply runs, one scary step ahead of her stalker husband. Realizing he's gone completely psycho and will never let her or any of her friends be and recognizing the effects of all of this on Gracie, Slim decides the best defense is a good offense. First, she'll outsmart him; then she'll kick the living daylights out of him. She goes from a frilly suburban housewife to a fighter who wears huge, cheap rings on every finger -- the better to smack Mitch with and make it hurt.

The cultural connotations of an abused wife gone commando are huge. Is this our only option? The ramifications of this particular fiction, however, sit comfortably on Lopez's shoulders, thanks to a decently crafted character who is smart, but desperate. Even when fighting back has yet to occur to her, Slim is shown developing elaborate, well-thought-out escapes. Not until she feels truly cornered does she resort to violence, and when she does it is measured, it is satisfying -- and it is a conscious choice. No victim psychology here, no "devil made me do it." Slim isn't a martyr and she isn't a bully; she's a survivor. For his part, Campbell, thankfully no longer playing the weepy good guy on ABC's saccharine Once and Again, achieves a level of real menace; he's a regular guy gone bad, a reasonable-sounding maniac.

Still, Enough manages to be rather predictable and frayed around the edges. Apted annoyingly titles sections of his movie early on ("how they met," "to have and to hold"), really only drawing attention to the fact that he abandons the conceit halfway through. While the direction is interesting, the dialogue is decidedly not. Lopez and Campbell turn in capable performances and the movie does have its moments, but, in the end, none of that is nearly enough.

click to enlarge 'Til death do us part: Billy Campbell and Jennifer Lopez before the marriage goes bad and the menace begins in Enough.
  • 'Til death do us part: Billy Campbell and Jennifer Lopez before the marriage goes bad and the menace begins in Enough.
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