[Screen It]

(2010) (Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Loughlin) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: After being artificially inseminated, a single woman meets the man of her dreams and must figure out not only how to tell him, but also how to proceed from there.
Zoe (JENNIFER LOPEZ) is a pet shop owner -- and boss to Clive (ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN) and Daphne (NOUREEN DeWULF) -- who isn't interested in getting into a romantic relationship. After all, her only family role model, grandmother Nana (LINDA LAVIN), has been dating Arthur (TOM BOSLEY) for years but never settled down. Yet, she wants children -- against the advice of her best friend and experienced mom, Mona (MICHAELA WATKINS) -- and thus has Dr. Harris (ROBERT KLEIN) artificially inseminate her.

While waiting to see if that takes, she accidentally meets cheese producer Stan (ALEX O'LOUGHLIN), who's instantly smitten with her, although the feeling initially isn't mutual. Even so, he eventually wears down her defenses and they become an item.

But she then discovers that she's pregnant from the earlier procedure. All of which means she must figure out when, where and how to tell him, and then deal with his reaction to that and other related news, all as he confides in and seeks out advice from a dad (ANTHONY ANDERSON) he meets in a playground.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
For all the civilizing of the homo sapiens species, many men and women still behave by procreation instinct when choosing a mate and future co-parent of their yet-to-be-conceived children. In short, many guys chose women with inherent childbearing physical traits, while the ladies oft go for men who appear -- at least on the surface -- that they'd be able to provide, care for and protect them.

Of course and due to all of the nature and nurture elements at play, neither gender can be sure what they're ultimately going to get, be that in a partner or child with them. That's particularly true now that some acts of procreation occur in the doctor's office and lab rather than the bedroom. In that regard, male donors have no idea who's receiving their half of the baby equation, while female recipients only get scant, superficial information. Even so, some women -- especially those who aren't looking for a relationship but hear the old biological tick-tock thing -- prefer it that way.

Imagine then, what would happen if the new technological option would collide with the old-fashioned way as a single woman ends up meeting the man of her dreams on the same day she's just been artificially inseminated by another fella. That's the gist of "The Back-Up Plan," a high-concept romantic comedy that serves as fledgling studio CBS Film's first foray into that genre (following their unsuccessful debut in the medical drama one with "Extraordinary Measures" earlier this year).

Considering its lineage, I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the offering feels like a TV movie (mixed with a lame and forced sitcom) rather than a big-screen one, even as it follows the standard trajectory of the usual rom-com. That starts with the usual "meet cute" moment as the characters -- embodied by Jennifer Lopez and Alex O'Loughlin -- simultaneously hop into the same cab on a rainy NYC day. He then pursues her, eventually wears down her suspicion and other defenses, and the two become an item.

The only problem is that there's someone else's bun in her oven, and she has to figure out how to break the news to her new beau. A spontaneous bit of vomiting following their first bout of lovemaking provides the opportunity and he freaks out. That turns out to be the first of various moments where he does that, becomes angry or walks out upon receiving related news, all of which would seem to be a clear signal she should keep the door locked.

Yet, the filmmakers -- director Alan Poul and screenwriter Kate Angelo -- repeatedly persuade her to let him back into her life, choices that become less credible with each occurrence. Of course, that isn't helped by the dearth of believable chemistry between the two or any sort of realistic (or at least funny, cute or imaginative) banter, dialogue and such from their mouths or that of others.

Those include the obligatory, wise-cracking best friend character, the coworker ones, and even some Hollywood veterans including Robert Klein, Tom "Happy Days" Bosley and Linda "Forget 'Alice,' I Get to Drop the F-Bomb" Lavin. At least the tiny dog in the handicap chariot doesn't get any lines (although he gets the most laughs, even if forced to do the standard reaction shots to what's occurring).

Speaking of animals, the filmmakers also make the mistake of letting the cat out of the bag -- or, more accurately, the pending baby out of the womb -- far too early in the film's 106-some minute runtime. No, the offspring doesn't actually show up until the end -- following another character's over-the-top delivery that's supposed to be funny, outrageous and outlandish but instead is annoying and just gross.

Yet, having her trying to hide the pregnancy from him, at least as long as physically possible, certainly would have been more interesting and potentially humorous than what's present. And that's simply watching her go through the pregnancy possess with all of the usual trappings, while he gets advice and support from Anthony Anderson as a sage playground dad in scenes that feel shoehorned into the overall offering.

Granted, the "keep the pregnancy secret" option wouldn't have been exactly novel in terms of Hollywood dealing with pregnancy in a comedic manner. The same holds true if the protagonist would have been writing a diary or blog, taping herself on video, etc. explaining to her future children what she was going through for them (the film does start off allowing us in her head and hearing her thoughts, but quickly abandons that). But any of that would have likely been better than the choices the filmmakers opted for that proceed from rote mediocrity to progressively increasing annoyance.

Considering this is Lopez's comeback film after a 4-year hiatus following the mediocre "El cantante," one has to ponder if she has her own titular option considering the lukewarm to disastrous reception this film may just receive. Simply put, "The Back-Up Plan" desperately wants to come out with potential, but was ill-conceived from the get-go. It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed April 20, 2010 / Posted April 23, 2010

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