The Back-Up Plan (2010) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Loughlin, Michaela Watkins, Robert Klein, Anthony Anderson, Linda Lavin, Eric Christian Olsen, Noureen DeWulf, Danneel Harris, Melissa McCarthy, Tom Bosley, Maribeth Monroe
Cameo: Cesar Millan
Director: Alan Poul
Screenplay: Kate Angelo
The Back-Up Plan is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that its producers build on the star power of Jennifer Lopez (Bordertown, Monster-in-Law). If you've noticed her track record, you'll know that J-Lo, even at her peak of popularity, has never had the stuff of the best leading ladies in the rom-com genre; she can't cover over the story weaknesses and lack of wit through comic appeal or girl-next-door adorability. She's not a comedian and is always shown as too glamorous to ever believe her to be that good girl who's unlucky in love. Casting her is a slapstick comedy about a woman who feels compelled to become pregnant through artificial insemination because her biological clock is ticking and she can't find a good man goes too far against the grain.
It just so happens that Manhattanite pet store owner Zoe, as Lopez's character is named, has a meet-cute with cheese-maker Stan (O'Loughlin, The Invisible) shortly after the insemination process. The two don't exactly hit it off right away, but Stan decides to pursue her, eventually winning her over with his romantic charm. Once Zoe begins to think that Stan might be the solution to her problems, Zoe discovers that the insemination was successful. She wants to tell Stan, but the fact that the child will not be his, he doesn't know if he wants children, and is already struggling to turn his life around financially all make full disclosure difficult. But a pregnancy is hard to hide for long, and though their relationship has just begun, she must tell him, and soon, and hopes he decides to stick around through it all. Especially when it turns out she is having twins.
The Back-Up Plan may be disappointing for the typical romantic comedy crowd. First, it isn't a particularly funny film, and the romance feels forced to the point where the couple seems comprised two unstable people. Many of the gags are derived from jokes about puking, pooping, gorging oneself messily on food, belching and blood -- things that can tend to happen during pregnancy -- so the more you can relate to Zoe's experience, the more humor you might find in the situation. But that humor you find is still only through the knowingness and not through any wit found in the screenplay or physical comedy clout by the performers.
As a romantic comedy, The Back-Up Plan doesn't produce nearly enough laughs or romantic goose bumps to recommend, even to regulars of the genre. It does work better when not trying to be funny, which happens whenever Stan must confront each difficulty of being with a woman on the verge of motherhood, which in turn means he must accept becoming a father. However, those insightful moments are few and far between, squeezing out silly shenanigans and gross-out moments to qualify as a comedy, and enough shots of Jackman-esque Australian actor O'Loughllin shirtless to make such a drab and underwritten character seem like he has some appeal romantically. The only thing we know about Stan is that he has inherited his family's farm, which he uses to make cheese. Appropriate, as nearly scene involving Stan plays out extra cheesy.
It plays like a TV film (no surprise, given a director and screenwriter solely experienced in TV) made for women's basic cable, except with an abundance of gags too tasteless for television. Perhaps the worst of these scenes occurs when Zoe's handicapped dog decides to eat her pregnancy test stick before she can find the results. She could easily do it again with a new stick, but that's not on the comedy agenda. Instead, she doesn't find out until she comes home later to find the dog has puked, and in that puke she finds the display showing that she is indeed pregnant.
The only comedic spark comes from Anthony Anderson (Transformers, The Departed), who is far too underutilized to save the film, as a father of three who offers lessons to Stan as far as what he can expect from becoming a dad. Alas, he only has two short scenes in the film, and they tend to make you wish we could follow his character and his family rather than the whining and increasingly unlikeable ones we're given. Curious supporting roles for old stars like Tom Bosley, Linda Lavin and Robert Klein are only of interest to see what they look like in the decades since we make have seen them last.
Without characters you can relate to or stars you feel compelled to watch, The Back-Up Plan is a lackluster attempt to make Jennifer Lopez likeable and relatable despite shopworn clichés and glaring flaws. It not only doesn't succeed, it makes its star look even more like a diva, which, as far as star vehicles go, makes it a potentially box office bankability destroyer for J-Lo. With her music career flailing, at least domestically, and a movie career in a nosedive she seems hell-bent on accelerating, it's probably time for Lopez to consider her own back up plan for her career. If you have a friend or significant other asking for your company to go see this, I hope you have a "back out" plan.
©2010 Vince Leo