It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a baby. After their shoe frenzy has been satisfied, bachelorettes turn into heat-seeking infant hunters. That's the premise of the artificial-insemination comedy "The Back-up Plan," or as it was probably pitched, "Knocked Up for Girls." The film isn't exactly a groundbreaking work of entertainment, but it passes the time engagingly.
In this case the pregnancy is planned, not the upshot of a boozy one-night stand with a tubby slacker. Jennifer Lopez plays Zoe, a New York City pet-shop owner who decides to make a baby on her own (without "a penis partner" as Kate Angelo's wisecracky script puts it). Zoe is inseminated in her doctor's office, and that very day meets Stan, the most attractive man on Planet Earth (Australian actor Alex O'Loughlin, who boasts a Tarzan physique and crack comic instincts). She has reasons to be skeptical about men, he has reasons to mistrust women, and their courtship is complicated by Zoe's little secret. Her hot buns in the oven (it's twins!) turn her into a hormonally fired-up sex volcano one moment and a puke-spewing ball of queasiness the next. Dames.
O'Loughlin is agreeable as Stan. He can be romantically expansive and uptight. When he gets nervous at the F-word -- future -- he's visibly torn. For once, the commitment-shy dude has a darned good reason. And Lopez is so funny, glowingly warm and awkwardly sexy as the hugely pregnant unwed lady you wonder what she's doing in a trifling movie like this. The cheeseball opening credits are the animated equivalent of those chick-lit book covers incorporating a martini glass and a pair of high heels. I wanted to check out before the film began. And the production values are barely midrange. Apparently Lopez is declining in star magnetism at the very time she's improving as a comic actress.
Indifferently directed by Alan Poul, "The Back-up Plan" is not a blessed event, but it's not bad. The film's comic misfires -- octogenarians in a conga line, pushy "fun" musical cues, way too much falling down -- are balanced by its surprisingly jaundiced view of parenthood. The members of Zoe's single-moms-by-choice support group are wickedly caricatured flakes, hippie types and man-haters -- they look like they wandered out of a Charles Addams cartoon. Stan gets the lowdown on the joys and oys of fatherhood (mostly oys) from a frazzled playground dad (Anthony Anderson).
As the pregnancy progresses, Lopez shovels chili into her gob like a competitive eater and makes fun of her famously ginormous booty. Reeling from the realization of what it costs to raise a child in Manhattan, Stan goes catatonic with worry. Then there's a water birth scene like something from "The Exorcist." And they're still just dating.
That the absurdly good-looking leads will eventually discover that they are made for each other is a given from their first cute encounter. What gives "The Back-up Plan" its interest is screenwriter Angelo's willingness to veer from safe rom-com giggles to sloppy, uncomfortable Sarah Silverman-style bad taste. This is certainly the first courtship comedy in which the stars bond while watching, aghast, as someone takes a dump in a kiddie pool.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186