Monday, April 26, 2010


Admittedly, when some gals can’t find Mr. Right, they resort to artificial insemination to jump-start a family on their own. The premise of freshman director Alan Poul’s chick flick comedy about planned parenthood, "The Back-Up Plan" (** OUT OF ****), is flawed from the outset. We’re asked to believe that drop dead gorgeous Jennifer Lopez has had no luck landing a father material. The irony here is that once our desperate heroine allows her physician to impregnate her with frozen sperm, she meets Mr. Right. Sitcom scenarist Kate Angelo has penned a predictable but frivolous saga about single motherhood that relies incredibly enough on delivery-related gross-out gags and scatological humor. No, nothing in the “The Back-Up Plan” qualifies as offensive. Some guys may find the subject matter uncomfortable, like too much information about the birthing process. Unfortunately, the fair-to-mellow humor doesn’t hoist this bland comedy out of the doldrums. A typical girl-finds-guy, girl-loses-guy, girl-wins-guy-back comedy, “The Back-Up Plan” comes with all the obligatory obstacles but lacks anything like spontaneity. In other words, this J-L0 epic generates only half of the hilarity of either “Knocked Up” or “Baby Mama.” Indeed, the humor here is aimed primarily at women. Poul gets the antics off on the right foot, but the story doesn't go anywhere you haven't been before in a thousand other comedies. Our thirtysomething heroine endures the usual bouts of morning sickness, hormonal episodes, and culinary cravings. Ultimately, the complication that splits up our two lovers drums up nominal drama. Meanwhile, no matter how dumpy J-Lo gets, the diva still looks dazzling. The most interesting but least developed faction of characters is a lesbian support group who have banded together to help single moms through pregnancy.

Zoe (Jennifer Lopez of “U-Turn”) owns a New York City pet shop called Hudson Mutts in Greenwich Village with the usual wisecracking employees. She also owns a small but playful handicapped Boston bull terrier named Nuts hat scrambles around in its own little doggie wheelchair. Basically, whenever Zoe needs to say something at home, she talks to the bull terrier. Undeniably, the pooch is an endearing scene-stealer, and it’s a shame that he’s mute. Having a supernatural pup might have made this movie more entertaining. J-Lo gets to slip in a message about puppy farms and the dangers of inbreeding. Nevertheless, our heroine has to contend with a hormonal clock that is ticking. The problem is she has not been able to land the right man. Basically, Zoe had a traumatic childhood. At age eight, she watched her mother die from cancer and her father abandon her because he couldn’t take the responsibility. Consequently, our heroine doesn’t believe that she can hook up with a guy and keep him. Despite all the warnings that her life-long best friend, Mona (Michaela Watkins of “Inconceivable”) gives her about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, Zoe remains adamant about having kids. No sooner has Dr. Harris (Robert Klein of “Hooper”) artificially inseminated Zoe than she collides with Mr. Right while hailing a cab. Predictably, Stan (Alex O'Loughlin of CBS-TV’s ill-fated “Moonlight”) jumps into the same cab that Zoe has flagged down. Neither can decide who should have the taxi so both get out and the cabbie cruises away. This incident is funny, but like most of the humor in “The Back-Up Plan” falls short of side-splitting. Later, at a Tribeca farmer’s market, Zoe and Stan run into each other again. He sells organic cheese and owns a goat farm. Stan has had little luck with the opposite sex, too. He dreams about owning an organic gourmet restaurant and is currently attending night classes to get his college degree. The two manage to hit it off and move in with each other. They shop for strollers and imagine what the future holds. Suddenly, Zoe fears that Stan will leave her. Guess what, he does. Just when Zoe thinks she cannot trust Stan, her grandmother Nana (Linda Lavin of CBS-TV’s “Alice,” who raised her after her mother died, decides to marry her fiance, Arthur (Tom Bosley of "Happy Days”), after keeping the poor fellow on tenterhooks for twenty-two years. Nana tells Zoe that Zoe and Stan looked so happy together that she had to marry Arthur. Imagine how Zoe feels.

The ladies that watch this romantic comedy may not be able to take their eyes off virile Aussie heartthrob Alex O'Loughlin who parades around without a shirt. Sadly, the chemistry between Lopez and O’Loughlin registers only minor tremors on the Richter Scale. They are agreeable and pleasant, but they don’t look like they were meant for each other. Some familiar faces from the past flesh out this lackluster romantic comedy. Namely, Linda Laven and Tom Bosley lighten up this meandering mess as a couple who haven't been able to commit to marriage for 20 years. Comedian Anthony Anderson seems restrained in his two scenes with O'Loughlin as an anonymous playground dad who contends with a son who brings him a fistful of feces. The crude humor about human feces doesn’t make you laugh as grimace because the filmmakers struggle to make these poop scenes funny. The bizarre single mom support group that our heroine attends early on in the action contains a scene near the end where a tattooed dame delivers a baby in a wading pool while making goofy barnyard noises. She also lets one go in the pool much to the chagrin of our hero. The outtakes, especially with the wheelchair doggie, are worth sticking around for as the end credits roll. The laughs in “The Back-Up Plan” are mellow just as the drama is soft-headed. Mind you, this movie marks Lopez’s first starring role in a theatrical feature since the 2006 movie “An Unfinished Life.” Clearly, Lopez didn't have much of a back-up plan with she selected this superficial potboiler.