With Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Anthony Anderson, Linda Lavin, Tom Bosley. Directed by Alan Poul. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language. 106 minutes.
THE BACK-UP PLAN fills a gap you probably didn’t even realize we had. It’s the female-oriented gross-out romantic comedy. Movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” were hybrids that let the frat boys be frat boys even while their dates were enjoying the more traditional love story. But what about women who need to be grossed out by such things as a dog trying to eat your urine-soaked pregnancy test or a woman giving birth in a pool losing control of her bowels?
If that were the worst of this movie’s sins, it might almost be forgivable, but it’s merely the most obvious. Here is yet another example of a genre where there are so many examples of how to do it right that it’s amazing how they keep getting it wrong. Start with the plot. Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) hears her biological time clock ticking and decides she can no longer wait for Mr. Right to come along. She wants a baby and arranges for herself to be inseminated.
While she’s waiting to see if she’s pregnant, Mr. Right finally comes along. Of course, it’s not immediately obvious to Zoe that Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) is Mr. Right, but it is to us. When it turns out she’s pregnant, the issue of the film becomes how Stan will react when he finds out she’s carrying some anonymous donor’s baby. Everything after that is painfully obvious, from his initial reluctance to her overreaction when he professes his love for her even though the baby is “not mine.” It plods along as if this is edge-of-the-seat suspense even though there’s not a surprise in the movie.
Well, that’s not quite true. A couple of veteran ’70s television stars pop up in supporting roles. An almost unrecognizable Linda Lavin (of “Alice”) plays Zoe’s grandmother with Tom Bosley (of “Happy Days”) as her fiance. Rather than doing something interesting, the addition of these elderly characters allows the movie to make jokes about the fact that elderly people are sometimes hard of hearing and incontinent. Thanks for sharing.
There’s the occasional odd laugh to be had, as with Robert Klein as an ob/gyn who repeats the word “vagina” several times to show that it’s no big deal. It may not seem funny on the printed page but this is as good as it gets. As for the leads, this is Lopez’s film and while it won’t win her any new fans, those who have been suffering her absence from the screen as she became a real life mom will find her as likable as ever. O’Loughlin is pleasant as the love interest but he has to hope he gets some better parts if he hopes to make a career of this. When they have their big love scene in a barn filled with aging cheeses – his business – your first reaction may well be, “Isn’t that unsanitary?”
“The Back-up Plan” needed a back-up plan. Given how awful the script is and how unappealing the characters are, how do they hope to lure people into the theaters after people have read the reviews?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.