The Back-Up Plan

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It happens every time. The minute you get in the bathtub, the doorbell rings. As soon as you wash your car, it rains. And the very day you’re artificially inseminated so you can have a child on your own, you finally meet the man of your dreams. Whaddaya gonna do?

This is “The Back-Up Plan,” an aggressively unoriginal and unfunny romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez as Zoe, a gal who wants to have a baby but is tired of waiting for a mate. We’re not told why reproducing is so important to her, or why she hasn’t been able to land a fella so far. When we meet her, she’s already at the doctor’s office with her legs in the air, having the procedure done clinically. A few lines of voice-over as she talks to herself is all we get in the way of back story. “The Back-Up Plan” has to move fast, or it’ll never cover all the cliches in time!

Like all romantic-comedy characters, Zoe lives in New York City and has a cute job. (She owns a pet store!) She has a couple of snarky friends-slash-coworkers (Eric Christian Olsen and Noureen DeWulf) who appear at the beginning of the film, crack some jokes, then disappear until the end; and a snarky married-with-children friend (Michaela Watkins) who’s around the whole time. She has an ancient grandmother (Linda Lavin) who Tells It Like It Is, which means she gets to say “douchebag” and drop the movie’s only F-bomb, ha ha, because it’s funny when sweet old ladies say vulgar things, get it?

Just after leaving the doctor’s office, Zoe gets into a taxi at the same moment as a man named Stan (Alex O’Loughlin). They have stolen each other’s cab! This is wacky and unexpected. Now they must hate each other, then run into each other again, then fall in love. Stan also has a cute job: He owns a goat farm and makes cheese! My oh my will he ever be surprised to learn that his new girlfriend is already pregnant! KA-ZOING!

And did I mention it’s TWINS?? GA-GA-GA-ZOOEY!

I detect the inkling of a good premise in here somewhere. There is great potential in a single woman falling in love after having already gotten pregnant. “The Back-Up Plan” strenuously avoids mining the scenario for legitimate comedy, however, in favor of following the same checklist of plot points as every other rom-com. The pregnancy aspect — the thing that could make this different from most rom-coms — often takes a back seat so we can focus on dumb things like poop jokes and barfing dogs.

The screenplay, by TV scribe Kate Angelo, rushes through Zoe and Stan’s courtship. It’s on their third date that Zoe reveals she’s pregnant. Stan is furious that she didn’t tell him sooner, because rom-coms need people to get angry about a lie that someone has told them — never mind that at this point he’s only known Zoe two weeks and has seen her twice. Seconds later, they’ve reconciled, and are suddenly a long-term committed couple, just like that, having skipped the “dating” and “falling in love” part. Do they believe this is an all-or-nothing proposition, that either they’re together for life, or Stan leaves now and they never speak again? Can’t they just, you know, DATE, and see where it goes?

Apparently not. See, the movie, directed by first-timer Alan Poul and composed entirely of contrivances, needs it to be established that Zoe and Stan are in it for the long haul. Why? So that Zoe can fret about whether Stan is really in it for the long haul. But where it usually takes an entire film for two people to work through their problems and become a committed couple, here we have to get to that point in about 45 minutes, to leave time for the pregnancy shenanigans (she’s too fat for her clothes lol). So everything is sped up, hastily thrown together. It’s as if two movies are being crammed into one, and neither of them is any good, and both of them have J-Lo.

This is the kind of movie where you could stop the projector 30 seconds into any scene and accurately predict what’s going to happen next. Every joke is broadly telegraphed. I can’t imagine being surprised by any aspect of it. A couple of gags hit home, particularly in Anthony Anderson’s two scenes as a random father who tells Stan what it’s like to be a dad. J-Lo and Alex O’Loughlin, if not exactly cut out for comedy, are at least good-looking. At every turn, the movie takes the safest, most generic, most heavily trafficked path, as if determined to avoid standing out in any way. Mission accomplished! As soon as I type this last period, I will forget everything about this movie.

Ahhhh…

D (1 hr., 46 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity, one F-word, brief strong sexuality, a lot of vulgar humor.)

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