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Back-Up Plan, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Come Back, Gigli--Most Everything Is Forgiven!"
1 stars

A few days ago, I had a couple of hours to kill before the screening of “The Back-Up Plan” and with absolutely nothing better to do, I decided to finally break down and see Noah Baumbach’s mumblecore-with-a-budget film “Greenberg.” This is something that I had been going to great lengths to avoid over the past few weeks for several reasons--my general distaste for the type of filmmaking that it represents (self-absorbed twits on the screen mumbling through their ennui-choked lives while self-absorbed twits in the audience mumble “so true” in response to every awkward and inert moment), my specific distaste for Baumbach’s films in general (I can think of very few films in recent years that I have loathed as much as “The Squid and the Whale” and “Margot at the Wedding”), my belief that Ben Stiller is a talent best kept behind the camera than in front of it and my irrational hatred of mumblecore icon Greta Gerwig, an actress whom I find so personally irritating that her mere presence in a movie tends to inspire the same reaction in me as the appearance of fingernails on a chalkboard or Jennifer Aniston--but since it is a film that has been inspiring no small amount of debate in cinema circles, I figured I might as well break down and finally see what all the fuss was all about.

Not surprisingly, I pretty much hated the entire thing from start to finish--it plays like an Alan Rudolph movie aimed strictly at people who hate Alan Rudolph movies and I happen to love Alan Rudolph movies--and largely for the reasons that kept me from seeing it in the first place. That said, I am willing to concede that it at least makes an effort to do something different and while it didn’t work for me at all, I can see how it could work for viewers who are far more attuned to its peculiar wavelength than I am. This is far more than I can say for “The Back-Up Plan,” a movie so insipid and off-putting that the very fact of its existence seems more like a cruel joke than anything else. The only thing more baffling than the fact that hundreds of theoretically sentient human beings slogged off to work every day in order to bring this jaw-dropping example of anti-entertainment to the screen is the fact that they presumably did so under the hopefully mistaken assumption that there was an audience out there waiting to savor its inanities for themselves.

The film stars Jennifer Lopez as Zoe, a woman who yearns to have a child of her own but, like so many women who look like Jennifer Lopez, just can’t find herself a fella with whom to settle down. Therefore, she has decided to have herself artificially inseminated in the hopes of getting pregnant that way. Immediately upon leaving the clinic, she meets the hunky Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) when they both try to hail the same cab and even though there can be no good to come from a guy who gets into a cab from the door facing the street, she finds herself attracted to him. Later on, she runs into him again at a local farmers market where he reveals himself to be a humble cheese maker and she agrees to go out on a date with him. Everything goes swimmingly until it turns out that she is indeed pregnant--with twins, none the less--and she has to break the news to him that their budding relationship has now changed significantly. Surprisingly, he decides to stick around for the long run after all and the two attempt to prepare for parenthood at the same time that they are still getting to know each other. Inevitably, the course of true love never runs smooth, especially with kids on the way, and the two find themselves wondering if they are really meant to be together before the inevitable climax where the kids begin their journey into the world at the most inconvenient time possible in order to heighten the wackiness.

Clearly, “The Back-Up Plan” would like to be the new “Knocked Up” but it goes about it in such a puerile manner that it doesn’t even manage to make it to the level of a modern-day “Frozen Assets.” The screenplay by Kate Angelo is so uninspired--cardboard characters, flat dialogue and unconvincing plot developments dropped throughout to break the main characters up and then bring them back together again (at one point, they get into a fight when it turns out that he is secretly going to night school to study business)--that it seems impossible to believe that the major players involved were able to stay awake while reading it, let alone finding it worthy of putting into production. The direction from Alan Poul is equally pedestrian--all the comedic scenes are shrilly overplayed while the more dramatically inclined ones are inadvertently hilarious. Worst of all, the attempts to go for the broad, gross-out humor that Judd Apatow managed to pull off in “Knocked Up” fail miserably. Granted, childbirth is not the easiest thing in the world to goof upon but Apatow proved that it was indeed possible if handled correctly. Here, Poul tries to replicate the combination of wackiness and ickiness and while that is easy enough, the trouble is that he has no idea of why it actually worked. When Apatow did the birth scene in “Knocked Up,” he turned into a classic bit of farce and saved the bit involving the baby emerging as a final topper that worked so well because a.) it was funny and b.) it was truly unexpected. This film tries to recapture the magic of that scene with an extended sequence in which our heroes attend a super-wacky home birth but the material is handled so badly that the entire bit just comes across as gross, stupid and borderline creepy by comparison. (Hell, it comes across as gross, stupid and borderline creepy in comparison to “Dead Ringers.”)

Perhaps befitting its parentage--it was produced by CBS Films, the theatrical offshoot of the television network--“The Back-Up Plan” feels like nothing so much as it does an extended episode of a especially awful sitcom. There is not a single line of dialogue on display that you can imagine an actual human being ever saying in real life--it is nothing more than set-ups, punch lines and explanations of big misunderstandings. Visually, it has the flat and atrocious style of a TV show in which it was decided long ago that the look was nowhere near as important as getting it shot in the quickest and cheapest manner possible. Beyond the leads, the supporting characters seem to have trucked in from a fire sale at the local cliché warehouse--there are wacky best pals, wacky co-workers, wacky grandparents and even a wacky pet. Even the casting, outside of Lopez, smacks of television. O’Loughlin, for example, has been on a couple of shows over the last couple of years and based on the general lack of big-screen charisma that he demonstrates here, it is where he is likely to stay. Then there are the appearances of old boob tube stalwarts like Linda Lavin (as Zoe’s grandmother) and Tom Bosley (as the grandmother’s fiancée) that do nothing except possibly settle bets that they are indeed still alive. Hell, even the role of Zoe’s OB-GYN is played by Robert Klein as a man who presumably requires a rim-shot along with the machine that goes “ping.” (If Obama’s health care reform means that Robert Klein can be your gynecologist, perhaps the tea baggers have a point after all--in the good old days, one could have at least held out for the Alan King option.)

“The Back-Up Plan” is an awful movie and the saddest thing about it is that it could well serve as the final nail in the coffin of Jennifer Lopez’s film career. There was a time when she was one of the most promising actresses around--she was gorgeous and charismatic and had enough legitimate acting chops to more than hold her own against the likes of Jack Nicholson (in the underrated “Blood and Wine”), George Clooney (in the still-brilliant “Out of Sight”) and both a giant CGI snake and a wildly overacting Jon Vought (in the immortal “Anaconda”)--but those days are long past and she now seems content to coast through lazy hackwork in exchange for large paychecks and while this approach may have helped to fill out her bottom line (no pun intended), it has all but killed her career as a serious actress and even in a career that has seen her appear in the likes of such junk as “Enough,” “Angel Eyes” and “The Wedding Planner,” this is a new low point for her. How bad is it? I am confident that anyone who somehow makes it to the bitter end of “The Back-Up Plan” will come out of it thinking that, in retrospect, maybe “Gigli” wasn’t that bad after all by comparison.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19250&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/23/10 01:23:56
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User Comments

11/18/17 Charles Tatum Melissa McCarthy and a home birthing scene grab the only laughs. 2 stars
6/05/11 art IT GAVE ME a HEADACHE! 1 stars
5/09/10 Monday Morning I had to pee throughout this film, and finally peeing was more entertaining. 2 stars
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  23-Apr-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Aug-2010


  DVD: 24-Aug-2010

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