Filmmaker Kevin Smith has done a savvy job of preparing audiences for the honking limitations of Jersey Girl. We know, thanks to a blitz of interviews, that he doesn't think it's his funniest or most original movie -- and he's being kind: It's a goopy well, duh of a family drama, a poor relation to ''About a Boy,'' about how it's better to be a nice daddy in modest New Jersey than to be a freakin' workaholic pig in fancy Manhattan, with Ben Affleck in the role of a reformed big-city schmuck named Ollie, and Raquel Castro as his spunky 8-year-old daughter. (There's no room in the equation to be a nice daddy and a nice Gothamite.) The movie is padded with clunkily sincere notes about real life, e.g., babies need diaper changes. And it requires George Carlin to growl shamelessly as Affleck's casually alcoholic father, and Liv Tyler to beam tirelessly as the most luscious Jersey video-store clerk ever to offer a guy a ''mercy jump.''
We also know in advance that Jennifer Lopez's character dies within minutes of the opening, and that we won't miss her: Lopez, perhaps you've heard, plays the wife of her former real-life fiancé. Alas, the missus expires in a dainty death-by-childbirth scene during which Lopez essays some graceful labor exertions, then elegantly kicks. But Smith has been too modest: Nowhere did he boast, as he could have, that ''Jersey Girl'' is the first production to ever cast a little girl as the mad baker Mrs. Lovett, who cheerily slits throats in Stephen Sondheim's musical masterpiece Sweeney Todd -- and Castro duets with her daddy as the demon barber of the title. I mean, for some four fifths of its length, ''Jersey Girl'' is as square as a turnpike-diner place mat, and then for one jaw-dropping scene, it's an avant-garde performance piece starring Ben Affleck and some kid singing about bloody meat pies! Dude, that is funny and original -- remember that feeling?!