Judge Erich Asperschlager pees on sticks whenever he goes camping.
Fall in love. Get married. Have a baby. Not necessarily in that order.
How long has it been since Hollywood made a decent romantic comedy? Considering what comes out of the major studios these days, I'm convinced there's a Pentium 4 sitting in a supply closet somewhere tasked with randomly generating screenplays. Feed in a few basic plot devices, a list of available actors, and the computer does the rest. If my suspicions are true, I doubt the cooling fan bothered kicking on during the two seconds it must have taken to spit out The Back-Up Plan.
Facts of the Case
Zoe (Jennifer Lopez, Maid in Manhattan) is a pet shop owner who has trouble with men. After trying and failing to meet "the one," she gives up and takes matters into her own hands. Well, not exactly her hands. She decides that the only way to get the family she wants is through artificial insemination. As she's leaving the doctor's office, though, she meets Stan (Alex O'Loughlin, Moonlight), an organic farmer/cheese maker. Despite getting off on the wrong foot—and the fact that she waits until after they have sex to tell him she's already pregnant with some stranger's baby—they get into a serious relationship and begin preparing for the happy day. It's nine months filled with cravings, baby shopping, bad advice from other parents, hilarious high jinks, oversensitivity, old people getting married, and a misunderstanding that threatens to tear them apart. Will they figure it all out before Zoe gives birth? If you're genuinely interested in knowing the answer to that question, than this movie might be for you.
As for everyone else, steer clear of The Back-Up Plan. It's not that the basic idea—a woman meets the man of her dreams after she gets pregnant via artificial insemination—is terrible. It's just that making it work on any believable level requires more work than this movie is willing to do. New relationships are hard enough without also having to deal with morning sickness and awkward doctor's visits. It's even harder when the child your girlfriend is having isn't yours. Strip away the goofy pretense and you might have the making of a thoughtful indie film. Add in unnecessary supporting characters, pregnancy clichés, jarring tastelessness, and an ending that writes itself, and you get The Back-Up Plan.
Every good romantic comedy needs best friends for the protagonists to go to for advice. In this movie, Jennifer Lopez's Zoe has Saturday Night Live's Michaela Watkins as Mona. A mother of three, Mona's parental advice boils down to offering to show Zoe her birth-ravaged privates. O'Loughlin's Stan finds his male parental sounding board in a nameless dad (played by Law & Order's Anthony Anderson), a guy who spends his time keeping an eye out for playground perverts and says "s—t" a lot in front of his kids. From there, the character list descends into an overstuffed mess of film-padding hangers on and abandoned side-plots. Take, for example, pet shop employees Clive (Eric Christian Olsen, Community) and Daphne (Noureen DeWulf, 'Til Death). We get some vague sense that Clive has a crush on Zoe, but it's never really explained. As for Daphne, I guess the screenwriter thought Clive needed someone to talk to. Another side-plot involves Zoe going to a single mothers' support group. Led by a free-spirited lesbian named Carol (Melissa McCarthy, Gilmore Girls), the group represents an alternative parenting point-of-view that might have been interesting if it wasn't reduced to jokes about water births and toddler breastfeeding. The award for most wasted storyline goes to Zoe's relationship with her grandmother, a strong-headed woman who's engaged to Tom Bosley, and calls someone a "douchebag."
Maybe all those characters and side-plots are necessary, though, to distract from the complete lack of chemistry between Lopez and O'Loughlin. Jennifer Lopez was a romantic comedy mainstay in the early-to-mid 2000s. She's cute and inoffensive enough to hold her own here. Alex O'Loughlin isn't terrible in this part, he just has a terrible part to play. Nothing in the script convinced me that Stan would go out of his way to pursue Zoe, let alone be so into her after a few dates that he'd jump headfirst into the whole she's-not-having-my-baby thing. Because that motivation is missing, everything that follows rings false. The real problem with Stan, though, is that he's charmless. Not only does he drop pick-up lines like "If we weren't 'just friends' I'd kiss you right now and then I'd be your best kiss," his best move is ripping the price tag off of Zoe's new dress on their first date. Who says chivalry is dead?
The strangest thing about The Back-Up Plan is that it's needlessly crude. Hard as it is to believe, this J. Lo rom-com pushes the boundaries of its PG-13 rating. Everyone swears, all the time. Zoe swears, Stan swears, Mona swears (a lot), heck even Zoe's grandmother swears. It's awkward, and feels completely out of place. Even so, I'll take the potty talk over the potty humor. Because this movie pretends to deal with pregnancy in a "real" way, it doesn't shy away from the messier aspects. You want to see a bloody ultrasound wand? You got it. How about a woman in labor pooping in a birthing tank? You're in luck. I went through all the gross stuff when my daughter was born. I don't need to be blindsided by it in a goofy romantic comedy.
Ugly as the content can be, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer of The Back-Up Plan is at least nice to look at. Color, contrast, and detail are satisfying. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is clear, with most of the work going to the front speakers. The rear speakers are used primarily to boost the licensed music and soundtrack—an upbeat, if forgettable, score that tries awfully hard to trick your ears into believing that Zoe and Stan are in love, and that the jokes are funny.
Like the movie itself, the extras don't try very hard. There's a collection of four deleted scenes, and a 12-minute making-of featurette.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As predictable and distasteful as I found The Back-Up Plan, there are others who will enjoy it. My wife, for instance, thought it was fine. Even though it fails at the attempt, I'll give the film credit for not glossing over the hard parts of pregnancy. Just because the heavier moments feel out of place doesn't mean the filmmakers should have gone for pure fluff. I still think the excessive bad language will push more people away than it will bring in, but if you like this kind of movie, you could do a lot worse.
It's a bad sign when the most interesting thing about a movie is the fact that there's a hyphen in its title. Since they don't give Oscars for punctuation, The Back-Up Plan has to rely on the strength of its writing, characters, and humor. Too bad. There may have been potential in the idea, but no one seemed to think much beyond the elevator pitch. The result is a clichéd story filled with distracting characters, gross-out humor, and a leading couple that just doesn't make sense. If your significant other wants to rent this movie, make sure you go into the video store with a back-up plan of your own.
Did I mention this movie has a scene where a crippled dog steals a pregnancy test? Guilty.
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