I remember when Jennifer Lopez started acting. I found myself thinking "Boy, I sure hope she has a back-up plan."
Okay, that's rather corny. So is everything in The Back-Up Plan, a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy in which Lopez plays Zoe, a woman whose biological clock has been ticking loudly and so she finally breaks down and gets herself artificially inseminated (by a very funny Robert Klein).
As she's leaving the physician's appointment having just completed the picture, into her path stumbles Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), a hunky cheese maker/farmer who steals her cab and then her heart.
Sorry, I know. That was corny, too.
Director Alan Poul has a long history in television, and much of The Back-Up Plan feels like a 30-minute sitcom stretched out to be a full-length feature. The problem is there's never any doubt how all of this is going to turn out and, in all honesty, the journey to get there isn't particularly interesting or involving.
Then, there's Poul's unhealthy obsession with J.Lo's admittedly nice derriere. We know she has a nice butt, we've heard the rumors that it was even insured. We understand that J.Lo is absolutely beautiful. Do we really have to see her striking model poses so regularly throughout the film? Do we really need the regular shots of J.Lo in skimpy nightwear, even when she's several months pregnant?
Really? Do we?
To be fair, Poul is almost as obsessed with the buffed up O'Laughlin, who is shot regularly throughout the film without a shirt and, in one scene, it feels like we've stumbled smack dab into the middle of a Kenny Chesney "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" music video.
In case you're wondering, that's not a compliment.
These gratuitous shots of unnecessarily sexy posing detract from what is otherwise a fairly light, breezy romance and a decent chemistry between Lopez and O'Laughlin. O'Laughlin may, in fact, be one of Lopez's more convincing onscreen partners. However, it's not enough to overcome material that feels constantly manufactured to obtain laughs that never arrive.
Most of the film's laughs come, or are at least supposed to come, from Zoe's participation in a single mother's support group, an oddball collection of "single and proud" moms ranging from hippie chicks to lesbians to, well, J.Lo. While there should be moments of sentimentality interspersed throughout, much of the sentiment falls flat and, in particular, one birthing scene involving the support group is so grotesquely over-the-top that saying it doesn't work feels inadequate.
Despite all of the problems contained within The Back-Up Plan, there's something about Lopez here that is ever so slightly appealing on a level she's never quite achieved onscreen. Lopez feels less like Lopez here and more like a relaxed actress sinking into her role, it's just unfortunate that Poul and screenwriter Kate Angelo didn't give her more to work with in terms of character.
What is delightful here is the return of two 70's sitcom icons, Tom Bosley and Linda Lavin. Lavin does manage to give the film it's moments of sentimentality, along with a nice performance by Michaela Watkins, though it's never quite clear whether she's playing Zoe's sister or best friend. Bosley, as well, still manages to portray the delightfully wise older man, and his scenes with Lavin are often more interesting than the scenes between Lopez and O'Laughlin.
It's always a bad sign when the highlights of a film are those scenes involving fairly minor characters, but such is the case with The Back-Up Plan, a film that elicits more heart and humor when Robert Klein, Linda Lavin and Tom Bosley are onscreen than at any moment involving Lopez or O'Laughlin.
Oh, and there's the disabled Boston Terrier.
Enough about him.
Oh, and there's Anthony Anderson who, for some reason, shows up in a bit part doling out bits of fatherly advice to the skittish Stan.
Enough about him, too.
A few laughs and a few brief appearances almost manage to make The Back-Up Plan worth a view, but ultimately the film crumbles under the weight of its formulaic storylines and cookie cutter conflicts and resolutions.
Eventually, J.Lo, you will be too old to get away with films like this one.
So, um, what's your back-up plan?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic