April 21, 2010

Back-Up Plan, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Back-Up Plan, The

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-04-23

Running Length:

1:42

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Content, Profanity, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Loughlin, Michaela Watkins, Tom Bosley, Linda Lavin, Robert Klein

Director:

Alan Poul

Screenplay:

Kate Angelo

Cinematography:

Xavier Perez Grobet

Music:

Stephen Trask

U.S. Distributor:

CBS Films

Subtitles:

none


Film critics love titles that imply something about the movie in question (either in a straightforward or ironic fashion). Thus, it might seem that The Back-Up Plan offers a perfect opportunity to play with the name; after all, as it applies to a multiplex trip, a "back-up plan" refers to what movie-goers see when their first choice is sold-out. Unfortunately, such as assessment would be overly optimistic in this case, since this movie is less a back-up plan than it is a last resort. Or, to put it another way, this is the film to watch when pretty much everything else has been sold out and the only remaining choices are The Back-Up Plan and the latest Rob Schneider opus.

The Back-Up Plan is soft and squishy - the kind of thing that would be comfortably at home on post-Prime Time cable or as a seat-back choice on a transcontinental flight. It's dramatically vanilla, suffers from sit-com humor tendencies, lacks a compelling romance, and struggles to find a convincing performance. It's tough to actively hate the movie because something this carefully pre-packaged is designed to deflect anger. Hollywood seems largely incapable of making an interesting, funny movie about pregnancy. The only recent one that comes to mind is Knocked Up, and The Back-Up Plan could easily (and effectively) be described as "anti-Knocked Up." It goes without saying that the PG-13 rating disallows any edgy material from entering the picture, not that the filmmakers would go in that direction even if provided an R-rated opportunity.

The predictable story focuses on Zoe (Jennifer Lopez), a woman in her mid-30s who, despairing of ever meeting Mr. Right and settling down in familial bliss, decides to go the single parent route. So, armed with a test tube purchase from a local sperm bank, she spends a few minutes in a fertility clinic with her feet pointed at the ceiling. A few weeks later, she learns that the treatments were arguably too effective since the early ultrasound shows two beating hearts. But there's a complication. No sooner has Zoe been inseminated than she meets the elusive Mr. Right. He's Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), a hunky cheese maker who looks really good with his shirt off. Zoe worries that telling him the truth will send him looking for someone less ripe. However, since this is a fairy tale, Stan proves to be a stand-up kind of guy. After a little soul searching, he decides to stick with Zoe through thick and thin (more of the former than the latter) and become a daddy to his girlfriend's offspring.

The Back-Up Plan is a hybrid romantic comedy and pregnancy comedy. There are interesting ideas in the premise, but most are softened by the need to provide non-controversial mainstream fluff. Zoe's pregnancy falls into the sanitized cinematic type with which we have become familiar. The combination of prosthetics and make-up used to make Lopez appear to go through the various phases of her condition is unconvincing. Moments are rare in which a shot of the actress could be considered unflattering. She looks the way most women wish they would when struggling through their third trimester.

I'm still trying to reconcile the downward spiral of Lopez's acting talent. In productions like Out of Sight and The Cell, she lit up the screen, fashioning a dynamic that was part sex appeal, part force of personality, and part acting capability. Since then, she has slipped through the plane of mediocrity to reside in a zone where "performance" is synonymous with plastic smiles, curvy costumes, and flat dialogue. Some might argue this transformation occurred around the time she stopped being Jenny from the Block and started being J-Lo. Others might cite the Gigli factor. For me, it was all about The Wedding Planner and how she airbrushed her image into something outwardly flawless but otherwise unremarkable. Her co-star in The Back-Up Plan is Alex O'Loughlin, a TV actor whose chief attribute is that he's photogenic enough to share scenes with Lopez and not look like a troll.

For a romantic comedy to work for those who are not members of its core demographic (and will accept almost anything as long as there's an element of fantasy and wish-fulfillment), it must craft an endearing love story or consistently provoke hearty laughter. The Back-Up Plan doesn't do an especially good job at either. Its attempts at comedy, which rely on a pregnancy support group comprised of stock bizarre characters and typical slapstick elements, do no better than generate half-hearted chuckles. And the romance is simply uninteresting.

The Back-Up Plan's TV pedigree is evident - it feels like something developed for broadcast. Director Alan Poul has a substantial resume of small screen productions; this is his feature debut. Screenwriter Kate Angelo has 17 previous credits - all television. With the exception of Lopez, nearly all the actors are TV fixtures, including '70s icons Tom Bosley and Linda Lavin. (The appearance of the former made me a little wistful - when did Mr. Cunningham get so old?) Plus, the distributor is the newly formed CBS Films, the network's motion picture arm. While The Back-Up Plan might work as passable, disposable fodder in the less demanding realm of non-pay television, the thought of parting with $10 to see it in a multiplex auditorium is almost offensive.

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