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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE BACK-UP PLAN"


Alex O'Loughlin and Jennifer Lopez share a not-particularly-romantic encounter.
 
The Back-Up Plan represents a major comeback for Jennifer Lopez. Unfortunately, she's come back to making crap. Don't get me wrong - I like Jennifer Lopez. A lot. I remember how good she was early in her career, playing strong women in smart movies like Out of Sight, Blood & Wine and Selena. Then stardom hit and, like a lot of actors, Lopez developed a need for career self-preservation that led her to make a lot of "safe" (i.e. formulaic) romantic comedies such as The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan and Monster-in-Law. I miss the old Jennifer Lopez - the one that was daring and fresh.

Like many so-called chick flicks, The Back-Up Plan is actually an insult to the female audience it allegedly caters to. The formula is always the same: Gorgeous Actress plays dateless loser, meets cute guy, gets married and/or has baby in the last ten minutes. After all, the only things women care about are cute guys, weddings, and babies, right? Right? Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…?

In this case, the dateless loser is Zoe, a pet store owner who hears her biological clock ticking like Big Ben. Afraid that she'll never meet the right man in time to have children, she decides to get artificially inseminated. On the day she learns that she is, in fact, pregnant, she not-so-coincidentally meets Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), a.k.a. Mr. Right. He's a professional goat cheese maker. (Seriously, I'm not making this up.) Worried about his reaction to dating a woman who has been impregnated by an anonymous guy's sperm, Zoe has to figure out how/when to tell him.

Eventually, she clues him in and he's okay with it, until he's not. A local park dad (Anthony Anderson) fills Stan's head with stories of how miserable parenthood is. It's amazing that the movie asks us to believe that Stan has never met anyone else with children in his entire life, but apparently he hasn't, and so he allows himself to be influenced by his new friend's advice. You can probably figure out the rest of the drill from here. Everything goes exactly as you think it will.

This premise could actually be promising in a movie that wanted to take it seriously. The Back-Up Plan chooses to treat it in a very bad sitcom manner. There's no genuine human emotion in the story, just a lot of painfully contrived romantic comedy clichés, executed in an almost robotic manner. Even worse, instead of finding the humor in situations, the screenplay by Kate Angelo creates ridiculous situations that rob the picture of its ability to be relatable.

Consider this scene: Zoe is asked to be present when a friend from her single mother support group has a natural delivery. The woman (who, of course, screams like a banshee) is sitting in a little kiddie pool filled with water. During a contraction, we are told that her bowels have loosened in the water. There's also afterbirth once the baby emerges. The point of the scene is that Zoe and Stan see the birthing process and are freaked out by its lack of physical beauty. Some variation of this scene takes place in every movie about having a baby; even so, it's not hard to see how it could be played for truth, as the couple realizes what's in store for them. The Back-Up Plan, however, sees this as an opportunity for slapstick comedy, and has someone fall into that mucky pool. Do you understand now why I hate this movie so much?

There are many other scenes just like this, but to list them all would be to write an endless review, so I'll stop there. Lopez and O'Loughlin have zero chemistry together. I'd rather watch a dog romance a fire hydrant than watch these two romance each other. And in what alternate universe could Linda Lavin be Jennifer Lopez's grandmother? The former "Alice" star has her own subplot about a nursing home marriage to Tom Bosley, but mostly her function is simply to talk sense into Zoe in the last act.

Seriously, female readers - aren't you tired of these rom-coms? Don't you feel that they present distorted, simplistic depictions of woman and issues that matter to women? Because as a man, I sure feel that way. The Back-Up Plan is stupid and lazy, with no laughs and no romance. It is just one more assembly-line chick flick that will be forgotten by both genders in record time.

( 1/2 out of four)


The Back-Up Plan is rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, some crude material and language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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