REVIEW: J-Lo's Back-Up Plan Tragically Stillborn
The act of giving life to another human being is one of the great wonders of the human experience. Watching a movie that sucks the life out of you? Not so much.
The Back-Up Plan is either someone's idea of a joke or simply what passes for mainstream romantic comedy these days. I'm afraid it's the latter. Jennifer Lopez plays Zoe, a single New York City woman with aging eggs who decides to have a baby on her own. A twist on the tired stereotype of the frantic 30-ish woman who's so desperate to have a child she almost doesn't care which primate she mates with, Zoe is, at least, refreshingly self-possessed and unfailingly optimistic. After making a nice chunk of dough working for what is dimly referred to as an "Internet company" (and after learning firsthand that puppy mills are terrible things -- her cheerful pooch Nutsy has some back-leg issues and has to be attached to one of those little carts to get around), Zoe has followed her dream of opening an ethically run pet store. The time is right, her career is satisfying and supposedly lucrative -- why not go it alone?
On the very day she conceives -- the daddy is a test tube full of sperm -- she meets Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), a handsome goat farmer and cheese whiz. She confirms her pregnancy just before their first date, during which they eat a pizza and fall madly in love. In the ensuing days, Mr. Cheese develops a special variety of chèvre inspired by his new beloved. Moved by this act of devotion -- and who wouldn't be? -- she informs him she's in the family way. He takes the news badly at first. Then he's OK with it. Then he's scared. Heart patients and anxious types unaccustomed to taut suspense may want to know it all turns out fine in the end, and remember, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Even if it's twins.
Somewhere deep inside The Back-Up Plan there could be a very good comedy begging to exit the birth canal. But director Alan Poul and screenwriter Kate Angelo work overtime and then some to manufacture stock rom-com crises: The heavily pregnant Zoe has a pillow that allows her to sleep better; Stan feels threatened and throws it out the window. Then there's the issue of the stroller Zoe buys -- it's too big! Money woes creep up on the couple: Stan never finished college and is now attending night school, though he may have to quit to support his new family. (Plus, we see a close-up of some stuff from his economics textbook, and it looks really hard.) The plot thickens further when Stan befriends a young dad at the playground (played by Anthony Anderson) whose son bestows upon him a gift of poo. And get this -- dad doesn't know whose poo it is. Actually, that's a red herring, a plot point that isn't integral to the movie's conclusion, but boy, did it keep me guessing. In fact, I'm still thinking about it.
Poor Stan just wants to know what fatherhood has in store for him, and you can't blame him. But O'Loughlin, who's good-looking enough in an ordinary-guy, cheese-aficionado way, is strangely charmless. And Lopez, instead of pulling back and letting her casual sparkle ignite the chemistry between the two, sets the gears turning to make sure people know she's the hot one. I've generally found Lopez a wholly likable presence, even in moronic pictures like Monster-in-Law and Maid in Manhattan (though she was truly at her best as the kittenish firecracker Karen Cisco in Steven Soderbergh's 1998 Out of Sight). Lopez's magnetism has generally been the low-key kind: She glows without having to turn the wattage up to 11. But The Back-up Plan gives us a Lopez more desperate than any we've seen before. Over and over again she scrunches her face adorably. Her eyes go all cute and squinchy when she eats something yummy. Even with her heavy, rounded belly, Zoe insists on toddling around in perilous spike-heeled platforms that make her look like an accident waiting to happen.
In fact, the only thing in The Back-up Plan that doesn't feel extraneous and overworked is Robert Klein's compact but suitably nutty performance as Zoe's ob-gyn. Klein's character is kindly, impatient and slightly demonic all at once. And in a comedy as dismal as this one is, it's just nice to see a familiar face on the other side of the stirrups.