The Back-Up Plan is an unbelievably bad movie, an over-the-top and hopelessly strained effort that’s about as artificial as the method employed to impregnate Jennifer Lopez’s character. Like so many that have come before it, including the cheerless Baby Mama, it takes a sincere and engaging idea, strips it of anything meaningful, and then jam-packs it with shrill comedy routines, some verbal, some slapstick, all of them completely unnecessary. This isn’t to say that it couldn’t be made funny, but it does need some degree of truth in it. There isn’t a character, a situation, a location, or even a single line of dialogue that feels genuine – the plot is little more than an extended episode of a sitcom, one so hokey and manufactured that, at the end of its thirty-minute timeslot, all has miraculously been resolved.
The plot: Lopez plays Zoe, a New York City pet shop owner who, after years of not finding Mr. Right and starting a family, decides to take matters into her own hands and get herself artificially inseminated. Her simple plan becomes complicated after meeting Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), a handsome dairy farmer who sells his own homemade goat cheeses at farmers markets; the two instantly fall in love, although she has yet to tell him that she has been trying to get pregnant. Once she finally does become pregnant, it takes her even longer to admit it to him. Needless to say, he’s more than a little shocked when the truth is finally revealed. Up until now, he had never thought beyond meeting someone and forming a relationship.
The rest of the film is spent on Stan trying to cope with imminent fatherhood, Zoe getting past her deep-seeded trust issues, and both fretting over an uncertain future. In this sense, The Back-Up Plan is no better than the plethora of romantic comedies released annually, going for all the obvious jokes that have absolutely no basis in reality. Consider a moment early in the film, when Zoe arrives at Stan’s farm; as she drives along, she notices that he’s helming a tractor without a shirt on, and this distracts her so badly that she plows into a tree. Never mind the fact that we know she’s pregnant at this point – for the filmmakers, it’s only about the humor in losing control and damaging a car. Perhaps it was one of those situations where it was so funny that I forgot to laugh.
We’re also treated to a number of tired, unoriginal pregnancy jokes, which cover everything from spontaneous vomiting to constant food cravings to weight gain to that fateful moment when the water breaks and everyone within range slips and falls. We’re also given a few unexpected jokes, such as the sight of blood on the gloved hand of Robert Kline, whose character frequently examines Zoe. Did I miss something here? Is this funny just by virtue of the fact that it’s blood? Or is it because, soon after seeing the doctor’s hand, Stan dramatically collapses in yet another display of overused pregnancy humor? A scene like this is a deep mystery, begging the question of what audience is expected to find it entertaining.
And then there the women of a single moms club, which Zoe is nearly voted out of simply because Stan has entered her life. They’re all little more than broad comic caricatures, displaying not the slightest hint of authenticity, believability, or subtlety. They take part in a waterlogged birthing scene that truly does reach a new level of sheer comic desperation – as the leader bangs on a drum and chants, the mother-to-be sloshes around a plastic swimming pool, moaning as if she were channeling both an orca and a sheep, screaming at Zoe to stay where she is because she’s her focal point, ordering Stan to fetch her a mirror so that she can see the baby’s head emerging. This is probably the least funny scene of any movie released this year. Or last year. Or the year before that.
I’m still shaking my head in amazement. What were the filmmakers thinking? What were the actors thinking? Who believed that making this was a good idea? The Back-Up Plan is a movie of astonishingly little depth, plausibility, insight, and humor, although I suspect it might have been halfway amusing as a five-minute variety-show skit. Alas, it’s just over 100 minutes, which is to say that every joke is either needlessly stretched out or terribly out of place. The former includes a cameo appearance by Anthony Anderson as a worn out, wisecracking playground dad, who both frightens and inspires Stan, and who doesn’t know what to make of the substance his son dug out of the sandbox. The latter includes Zoe’s dog, which lost the use of its hind legs and now uses a doggie wheelchair to pull itself along. This might have worked had the poor thing not been a tool for a series of shallow I-want-to-eat-people-food-and-chew-on-your-pregnancy-test gags. The only back-up plan this movie should have followed was not getting made.