by Mel Valentin
Its been four years since Jennifer Lopez last appeared on the big screen, longer if you count back to her last film intended for general audiences, "Monster-in-Law," a forgettable comedy that co-starred a since-back-in-retirement Jane Fonda. Lopez has spent most of her offscreen time raising a family with her husband, Latino singer Marc Anthony, a sometime actor who co-starred in Lopez’s last film, "El Cantante," a generic biopic centered on the life of the King of Salsa, Hector Lavoe, that appeared and disappeared in movie theaters overnight. And now Jennifer Lopez is back with a sub-par, soporific romantic comedy, "The Back-Up Plan," directed by TV veteran Alan Poul and written by Kate Angelo, that tries to wring laughs from an increasingly pregnant (only fictionally, of course) J-Lo. It fails, miserably.The Back-Up Plan centers on the singularly named Zoe (Jennifer Lopez), a thirty-something (as in late-thirty-something), pet-shop owner who decides to start a family. Since she’s single, she goes to a fertility clinic. Post-insemination, she runs into Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), an organic farmer and cheese maker, when they both try to grab a cab during a downpour. Despite Zoe’s unfriendly, brusque response to his entreaties, Stan takes an instant shine to Zoe (because, of course, the romantic comedy template demands it). Zoe gives him the brush-off, but encounters Stan a second time when she’s strolling through the local farmer’s market with her best friend/comic sidekick, Mona (Michaela Watkins). Zoe rejects Stan a second time but finally gives in when he approaches her at a book signing at her pet shop (his potentially stalkerish behavior doesn’t get noticed or commented on).
"The phrase "abject failure" was created specifically for...."
After two or three encounters with Stan, Zoe questions the whole single mom thing, but fate and the screenwriter’s heavy hand dictate otherwise. Post-connubial bliss, Zoe breaks the news to a moderately shocked Stan. She gives him the chance to walk away, but that romantic comedy template kicks back into gear and Stan, revealed as a non-deep thinker, agrees to stay with Zoe and become the non-biological father to her unborn child. With more than an hour left to burn, running time wise, Poul and Angelo scramble to throw in a few more complications, settling on Zoe’s self-doubts, her doubts about Stan, Stan’s self-doubts, twins, more self-doubts, crass, vulgar humor, including not one, but two turd jokes, a single moms’ group made up of superficial stereotypes (e.g., various ethnicities, sexual orientations, physical appearance), and when those ideas run their unnatural course, a repulsive birthing scene (not Zoe’s) that would have made an early career David Cronenberg sit up and take notes.
As for where The Back-Up Plan ends up, it’s a romantic comedy, not a romantic tragedy (though it feels that way at times), so the final, seemingly endless scenes are, without a single exception, par for the genre. That wouldn’t be so bad (really, it wouldn’t) if somehow, through the grace of a divinity, real or imagined, The Back-Up Plan actually delivered on the “comedy” part of the “romantic comedy” template. It doesn’t. The closest The Back-Up Plan comes to actual comedy, the kind you actually laugh at, not with, lies in the scenes featuring Zoe’s sidekick, Mona. She delivers one or two vulgar lines that are meant to shock moviegoers, which they do, if only mildly and only because The Back-Up Plan is rated PG-13 and not R. Two scenes featuring Anthony Anderson as a harried playground dad (he never gets an actual name) almost work, but only because of Anderson’s comic timing. The second scene, alas, is ruined by one of the aforementioned turd jokes.What about Jennifer Lopez you may ask (rhetorically, of course)? While she’s still easy on the eyes (well, everything except her knobby feet, featured prominently in the opening scene) and delivers a passable performance, she can’t elevate the sub-par material she’s been given by Angelo and Poul. Musical interludes featuring drearily bland, instantly forgettable pop tunes don’t help either. And with minimal chemistry with her onscreen boyfriend and unengaging supporting turns (again blame the writing and directing), Lopez is left to carry [i]The Back-Up Plan[/i] on her shoulders, something even more talented actresses couldn’t do. In short, if you’re planning on seeing "The Back-Up Plan" this weekend, plan on seeing something/doing something else, like washing your car or, if you don’t have a car, your bike, or, if you don’t have a bike, your hair, or if you don’t have hair, then…well, you get the idea.
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originally posted: 04/23/10 03:51:49