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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Back-up Plan" hopes to generate romantic comedy by reversing the normal order of things so that pregnancy comes before a couple meets.
Otherwise, it's still boy-meets-girl, and the only issue between them -- because it's more or less a love match right away -- is how the boy feels about the girl already being pregnant. Since "The Back-up Plan" is closer to an old Doris Day comedy than "Sex and the City," that pregnancy is the result of artificial insemination rather than a complicated relationship with anyone else.
Jennifer Lopez carries this thin concept about as far and as well as she can, with Alex O'Loughlin in his first leading-man outing managing not to get lost in the shuffle of birth preparations and doctor appointments.
The CBS Films release, opening April 23, will have to generate its boxoffice primarily from women, though: the male characters definitely play second fiddle.
On the exact day Lopez's Zoe has her first doctor's appointment for her procedure with previously frozen sperm, she meets O'Loughlin's Stan. Meets cute, in fact, because they both grab the same Manhattan taxi and fight over its rights.
Kate Angelo's screenplay makes him all-too-perfect. Good-looking and unhitched with a cheese-making farm upstate, he dreams of opening his own grocery store with local, sustainable farm goods. Not only would her grandmother (Linda Lavin) approve, Alice Waters would approve! Oh, he's given a bad first marriage to a Swedish nymphomaniac that makes him distrustful of women. Meanwhile, she was deserted by her father, which makes her distrustful of men.
But these are screenwriting tricks to extend the courtship through nine months of pregnancy. Taking up the slack created by a lack of real dramatic conflict are Zoe's support cast -- employees of her pet shop (Eric Christian Olsen, Noureen DeWulf) and an advice-prone best friend (Michaela Watkins) -- a pregnancy pillow and a cute though handicapped Boston terrier who uses wheels to support dysfunctional back legs.
The cute factor goes overboard when it comes to a single-mother support group that Zoe impulsively joins. The strain for laughs with this group goes against the more natural comic flow of the story's other incidents and characters, perhaps betraying the writer's TV sitcom origins. At least debuting director Alan Poul, who also hails primarily from TV land, manages to create an ensemble feeling among the cast despite the fact that the film clearly is a vehicle for Lopez. Poul's crew makes the blend of Warner Bros.' Burbank sets and a few New York exteriors work much better than it usually does. Credit cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet's pleasing lighting and Alec Hammond's naturalistic sets with an assist here.