If it does little else--and it does little else--Jersey Girl marks the emphatic (in fact, fatal) end of Ben & Jen and that media monster they made together named Bennifer. In what could correctly be called "the new Ben Affleck movie," Jennifer Lopez barely outlives the credits--somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes, all told--but this is enough time for her to meet Ben, bed him and wed him and present him with a sappy-ever-after that takes him some 90 minutes to wrestle to the ground and make peace with--a daughter.

Bringing Up Ben is the gist of this gentle little conventional antic, concocted and executed by indie icon Kevin Smith. This is not the hard, cutting-edge Kevin. This is the soft and runny Kevin, trying (a little too hard) to work within the system. It's lame, man.

Nothing about this corny, compromised family comedy would cause you to believe this is the same man who made Dogma, Clerks and other irreverent reference points of recent cinema. You almost sense he reported to work every day in a shirt and tie, for gosh sakes!

Affleck is pleasant and personable enough as he swims through the familiar oatmeal of single parenthood--thanks, Jen--but earnestness is not enough, and at some point he seems at a loss for words and purpose. Till he's doubly struck by fatherhood and widowerhood, he is a slick music publicist in Manhattan, but the double punch reduces to sewage work in Jersey after he blows his slack at a big press event. In the curious way Smith phrases this argument, being a good father battles being a good breadwinner.

Affleck is allowed an occasional single-daddy diversion (a video clerk, sweetly dispatched by Liv Tyler) and a full-time, live-in babysitter (his grumpy pa, played with every line sounding the same by stand-up comic George Carlin--sit down, George). And the precocious offspring that keeps the plot in perpetual motion--and mindless--is someone Dakota Fanning should seriously worry about, an easy heartbreaker named Raquel Castro.

There is a flushing gag in the film that serves a good plot function, a neat use of Will Smith, and a very funny transplanting of Sweeney Todd. You can tell a creative mind is churning here, working overtime to prove he can play it the company way, but somewhere along the way Kevin Smith seems to have shed his idiosyncratic identity. Pity.

-Harry Haun