Jennifer Lopez stars and the film uses every obvious pregnancy joke in the book, but she fails to connect and the slapstick falls flat. Jennifer Lopez probably doesn’t need a backup plan, what with the recording career, Marc Anthony, the cosmetics business and the clothing line. So there’s no real worry that the whole acting thing isn’t panning out, which her new romantic comedy “The Back-Up Plan” only reinforces.
Still, it’s a shame since Lopez has an appealing sweetness on screen that seems to have been helped by marriage and motherhood. But despite a lot of practice in films such as “The Wedding Planner” and “Maid in Manhattan,” she still hasn’t figured out how to connect that sweetness to anyone around her, even when it’s the very hunky Alex O’Loughlin, who serves as boyfriend material here.
Pregnancy is going to be the big bump in the road of their relationship; we’ll get to the bumps in the film a bit later. Zoe (Lopez) has given up on finding “the one” to start a family with but not on having a baby, hence the backup plan. In a miracle of bad timing, just minutes after insemination, Zoe and a super hot single stranger grab the same cab at the same time. But where sparks should start flying along with their “who-got-there-first” argument, the taxi turns out to be just one of many no-smoking zones in this film.
No matter how many times director Alan Poul tries lighting the fire, nothing ignites. Though “Back-Up” is his feature film debut, Poul is far from a novice, with impressive writing and directing credits, mostly of the HBO persuasion with “Six Feet Under” the most significant. In other words, Poul should have been able to deliver this baby.
At least screenwriter Kate Angelo, out of the TV trenches of “Will & Grace,” has given the film a contemporary concept. With so many turkey-baster babies these days, “Back-Up” asks how does a guy cope when he learns the girl he’s falling for has a bun or two in the oven?
If anything, the script works overtime to make sure the film feels modern. O’Loughlin’s Stan has turned the family farm organic and sells designer cheeses at a NYC farmer’s market. Meanwhile, Zoe has left the corporate fast track to take over the pet shop that sold her a puppy-mill pooch with problems. She’s made it politically correct and au courant, complete with “The Dog Whisperer’s” Cesar Millan book signings.
Whatever points there are to be earned for being contemporary and PC, some should be deducted for predictability. Just because “Back-Up” is about baby bumps, baby daddies, baby mamas and baby making in general doesn’t mean every pregnancy cliché in the book should be used. Expected or not, these are the big, broad comedy moments — gross birthing scene, out-of-control appetite, wardrobe malfunctions — that should produce spasms of laughter. Instead they elicit groans. So when Zoe is covered by the stew she was trying to “sneak” it’s really more of a reminder that good slapstick is actually an art — unfortunately not one practiced here — and bad slapstick is just tedious.
O’Loughlin is yet another Aussie import to look good going shirtless, which the filmmakers have him do while riding a tractor and herding goats. (I know rom-coms are allowed to defy logic, but this seems a serious breach of farm etiquette.) After time spent doing theater Down Under, O’Loughlin’s drifted through smaller roles in film, gaining traction with series TV with longer runs on CBS’ “Moonlight” in 2007 as its sexy vampire PI, “The Shield” and others. This was his first leading film role, and one hopes he’ll get others since he plays almost as well with his shirt on.
The only real bright spot in the large supporting ensemble comes when Melissa McCarthy is on screen as the leader of a single-moms support group. For years she played the fabulously ditsy chef on “Gilmore Girls” and once again proves she’s never met a line she can’t make delectable. Unfortunately, not much else in the movie is.