Film Review: The Back-Up Plan

2010 – 104mn – 12A

Directed by Alan Poul. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin.

Review by Walter Nichols

THE Back-Up Plan is another one of those conveyor-belt romantic comedies, but at least it’s decently made. Following on the trend of movies about people having babies and inconveniently falling in love at the same time (see Knocked Up, Baby Mama, Waitress), The Back-Up Plan is about Zoe (Jennifer Lopez), a pretty New York pet-shop owner, who, unable to find the right man and eager to start a family, gets artificially inseminated. Leaving the appointment she accidentally jumps into the same cab as handsome young cheese farmer Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) and falls in love, the kind of situation that is only believable in the mind of a Hollywood hack.

The humor is surprisingly broad. It’s all raging hormones, embarrassing orgasms, and the hil-arious revelation that pregnant women are very hungry and, well, a bit farty. This is, oddly, a good thing, and there are more than a couple funny over-the-top set pieces. Little-known Michaela Watkins is very, very good as Zoe’s foul-mouthed best friend, and proceedings move breezily if conventionally along.

It’s when there’s actual writing involved that the film suffers. There’s no real plot to speak of, the ideology behind the whole thing is disappointingly narrow-minded (there are no spiritual concerns here – it’s all about money, success, and how being pregnant makes your bum fat), and the characters have no consistency whatsoever. Zoe, happy to commit to owning her own business, owning a disabled pet, and to having babies, is suddenly portrayed in the second half of the film as commitment-phobic. Love-interest Stan goes from laid-back and earthy to paranoid and sexist. To spare the filmmakers having to think up obstacles, he turns into a jerk every fifteen minutes, like clockwork, for no reason whatsoever. By the time you’re halfway through the film, you hate his guts, and start hoping Zoe is going to meet someone else instead.

The actor portraying Stan, Alex O’Loughlin, tries his best, but feels like a TV sitcom love interest, here for three episodes and then out. He’s nice, but he’s not very good and he doesn’t light up the screen. Considering Jennifer Lopez’s past romantic co-stars include Matthew McConaughey, George Clooney, Richard Gere, Ralph Fiennes, and Wesley Snipes, this is a distinct step down.

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Lopez carries the whole thing on her shoulders. She hasn’t led a romantic comedy since 2005’s dud Monster-in-Law, and she’s lighter than ever. The twinkly, likeable charm is still there; and unlike, say, Jennifer Aniston, she actually feels like she wants to be here, and she’s having fun doing it. She makes you miss the days when we were treated, every summer, to an unassuming Jennifer Lopez rom-com, before she somehow transformed into JLo, hip-hop diva, splashed relationships with Ben Affleck and Marc Anthony all over the tabloids, and lost all her appeal in the process.

Star rating: 2 out of 5 stars