Hollywood's relentless quest for pre-sold film properties has moved to the advice and self-help section of the bookstore, with recent romantic comedy adaptations of "He's Not That Into You" and "Think Like a Man." Now comes "What to Expect When You're Expecting," which fashions the pregnancy guide into an amiable but disjointed movie with too many stories and not enough storytelling.
Intertwining the experiences of five Atlanta couples and twice as many supporting characters, director Kirk Jones creates a traffic-jam movie that's all subplot and no plot. In its place we get formulas. Accidentally pregnant Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford) wonder if they can be a couple. Infertile Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) imitate a perfect parental unit to impress the adoption agency. Unmarried TV celebrities Jules (Cameron Diaz) and Evan (Matthew Morrison) ... um ... wonder if they can be a couple. Children's author Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her schlubby hubby Gary (Ben Falcone) find themselves in a neonatal rivalry with Gary's NASCAR star dad, Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), and his trophy wife, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker).
Overwhelmed? There's more, with a dads' support group of stroller-pushing fathers including Thomas Lennon and Chris Rock. Any movie with Chris Rock in it is automatically a better movie, especially when he ad-libs his own dialogue, as he appears to be doing here. But his presence raises the question of why a film set in Atlanta has so few black characters. "Think Like a Man," aimed at a predominantly black demographic, was much more inclusive as well as a whole lot funnier.
The film features a lot of "my hormones are making me crazy" humor for the women and "this is too much responsibility" scenes for the men, but most of all it is fixated on cheesy reality television. Every couple is somehow linked to creating or consuming TV or both. I guess if that is the staple of your entertainment diet, "What to Expect" is a fun night out by comparison. Otherwise, don't expect too much.