|In “The Back-Up Plan,’’ Jennifer Lopez plays a single woman who decides to get pregnant on her own, and then meets the guy of her dreams, Alex O’Loughlin. (Peter Iovino/CBS Films)|
The Back-up Plan
She’s cute. He’s cute. That’s the ‘Plan.’
In another universe — or least another era — “The Back-up Plan’’ might have been an interesting comedy. A single woman decides, as a not insignificant number of single women do, to cease man-hunting and conceive a child on her own. Not long after the insemination — OK, the minute it’s over — she meets a perfectly reasonable candidate for a partner. He really likes her, but how OK is he with the baby thing? Let the soul searching and social commentary begin. Just kidding.
“The Back-up Plan,’’ directed by Alan Poul, is a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez. So it can’t be interesting at all. It contains enough metaphors for both its opinion of us and its own quality that a reviewer is barely necessary. The animated opening credits feature a man and woman whose wine glasses, upon clinking together, turn into baby bottles that each proceeds to suck. Lopez’s crippled dog vomits up the results of her pregnancy test. And her perfect — perfectly bland — mate, Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), makes cheese for a living. Meanwhile, the less said the better regarding a scene that requires Lopez to root around in a dumpster for a pillow.
Zoe (Lopez) and Stan meet when they wind up hopping into the same Manhattan cab at the same time. That he couldn’t have seen her opening the door first calls to mind an old pickup move: feigning serendipity. But Stan can’t be that conniving. He’s a locavore for heaven’s sake. Zoe, meanwhile, “used to work in the corporate world.’’ Now she runs a pet store. This, of course, is a problem with “The Back-up Plan.’’ Cuteness is viral. That crippled dog gets as many close-ups as Lopez.
This is a movie where characters drink giant cups of coffee on an elliptical machine, where Stan’s shirtless tractor-driving causes car accidents, where apartment doors are sitcom-ishly unlocked, where spilled wine interrupts a kiss, then somehow starts a fire that ends in a water fight.
That an upscale Latina New Yorker would be compelled to take this route to starting a family is another interesting idea whose conflicts the movie avoids altogether. Kate Angelo’s screenplay has killed the character’s mother and sent her father off to who knows where. It’s just Zoe, that dog, and her nana (Linda Lavin). Her best friend’s family is a commercial for a migraine reliever. Stan’s only pals include an ex-girlfriend who sells her muffins next to his cheese stall and Anthony Anderson, as a dad he meets at a playground.
What’s so disappointing about movies like “The Back-up Plan’’ — which is to say every romantic comedy that’s opened in the last two years — is that they’re risk averse. The fantasy aspects of this one skew much closer to so-called chick lit, where expensive shoes never touch the earth. No one says anything true or offensive or funny. Real life is always horrific. Here the camera manages to turn a scene of home birth into a version of the “Rosemary’s Baby’’ finale. Come to think of it, “Rosemary’s Baby Daddy’’ would have been a better title.
But “The Back-up Plan’’ is a title apt for a dancer who acts and sings but excels at neither. Lopez smiles, whines, and blinks her way through this movie. She seems more relaxed than she ever has. And yet it seems like she’s hiding in romantic comedies, lest we discover that she doesn’t have a “Monster’s Ball’’ or even a “Blind Side’’ in her. What if Lopez actually has no stops to pull out?
She needs the challenge of a compelling costar. George Clooney, as is his wont, made her seem vital in “Out of Sight.’’ That was a dozen years ago, and, sadly, Alex O’Loughlin is no George Clooney. He’s an Australian who can speak in a convincing regional American accent and look good topless. This movie is really about Stan’s dilemma. But O’Loughlin’s job is to offer selfless support. He’s not performing a character. He’s playing a shelf.