Not calling itself "Three Men and Three Babies" is as much of an imaginative leap as "My Baby's Daddy" affords. Though suspiciously yanked from critics' pre-opening perusal at the 11th hour, laffer produced, co-written and starring Eddie Griffin isn't an embarrassment. It's an acceptably executed time-killer that should do OK short-term biz.

Not calling itself “Three Men and Three Babies” is as much of an imaginative leap as the new comedy “My Baby’s Daddy” affords. Though suspiciously yanked from critics’ pre-opening perusal at the 11th hour, pic produced, co-written and starring Eddie Griffin isn’t an embarrassment. Rather, it’s an acceptably executed, thoroughly routine time-killer that should do OK short-term biz amidst January new-release doldrums, then prove a popular rental item. That it took Griffin and three (credited) collaborators to come up with a script this by-numbers only proves once again that too many cooks homogenize the soup.

After cartoon credits depicting protags’ close friendship from the cradle, live action commences as they’re pushing 30 — but still living like footloose teenagers in grumbling Uncle Virgil’s (John Amos) South Philly house. Four-eyed, dweeby sanitation worker Lonnie (Eddie Griffin) remains cluelessly in love with lifelong crush object Rolonda (Paula Jai Parker), who’s so trashy and undeserving she might as well have “H” and “O” tattooed on her forehead.

Tubby G. (Anthony Anderson) has a better thing going with Xi Xi (Bai Ling), the daughter of the owner of the corner market where he day-jobs. But he has fantasies of becoming a professional boxer.

White “bro” Dominic (Michael Imperioli) works at a recording studio alongside gorgeous Nia (Joanna Bacalso), with whom he’s having a fling. His focus, however, is on making it as a rap act manager, with current hopes pegged on Caucasian-goofball duo Tha Brothaz Stylz (comedians Randy & Jason Sklar).

Bachelor days, however, are thrown for a loop when all three of the men’s current squeezes simultaneously announce they’re pregnant. Marriage — even cohabitation — is not yet discussed. But the guys show up alongside expectant moms at a birthing class (taught by Amy Sedaris, who like everyone here has had better material to work with).

The births are simultaneous too, natch, opening the gate wide to barf, pee and poo jokes. While Lonnie instantly warms to “Mr. Mom” duties, G. and Dom don’t. All three get a sobering wakeup call when the tiny tots briefly crawl out of sight while left alone during a house party.

Just when dads vow to take fatherhood more seriously, however, trouble looms on the mommy front. Xi Xi and her uptight Chinese father (Denis Akiyama) suffer major doubts about G. when he takes in a cousin (Method Man) newly sprung — yet again — from the slammer. Dom discovers that Nia has acquired a live-in lesbian lover (Naomi Gaskin).

Lonnie works up the nerve to seize full-time responsibility for his child, but fears he’s blown any chance of romance with young single mother Brandy, (Marsha Thomason).

These complications work out smoothly, of course, with helmer Cheryl Dunye using expert montage to fast-forward through some of the more predictable narrative developments.

Decently paced “My Baby’s Daddy” is no longer than need be at just over an hour and a quarter (plus 8 1/2 minute closing credit crawl). In typical current comedy mode, supporting characters tend to milk laughs from cheap racial stereotyping (e.g. Xi Xi’s family members are named Cha-Ching, Bling Bling, Sing Sing and Fung You), which then gets patly upended in equally cartooned, warm-and-fuzzy fashion later on.

Pic improves once early crude jokes are abandoned for a more seriocomic air. Good baby-wrangling during seg in which tots scamper loose reps closest thing to a memorable set piece.

For Dunye, of enterprising lesbian indie pic “Watermelon Woman” and outstanding HBO women’s prison tale “The Stranger Inside,” feature reps a lateral move — a good one commercially, less so artistically, though latter owes more to script than to her competent handling. Likewise, entire cast is good enough, without scoring any memorable moments that better material might’ve prompted. In particular, Amos, Method Man, Sedaris and Scott Thompson (in one scene as a store cashier) just get to glimmer, when they’re obviously ready to shine.

Tech and design package is polished if undistinguished. Soundtrack is, no surprise, wallpapered with hip hop tracks — the most obvious tip to fact that “Baby” involves myriad rap identified talents both on and offscreen.

My Baby's Daddy

Production

A Miramax Films release of an Immortal Entertainment production in association with Heartland Prods. Produced by Happy Walters, Eddie Griffin, Matthew Weaver. Executive producers, Peter Safran, Karen Koch, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jeremy Kramer. Co-producers, Damon "Coke" Daniels, Scott Nemes. Co-executive producer, Laura Rister. Directed by Cheryl Dunye. Screenplay, Eddie Griffin, Damon "Coke" Daniels, Brent Goldberg, David T. Wagner.

Crew

Camera (color), Glen MacPherson; editor, Andy Blumenthal; original music, Richard Gibbs; executive music producer, Rodney Jerkins; music supervisor, Randy Spendlove; production designer, Andrea Stanley;art director, Craig Lathrop; set decorator, Mark Steel; costume designer, Gersha Phillips; sound(Dolby Digital), Stephen Barden, Richard E. Yawn; animation, Noodlesoup Prods.; assistant director, Patrice Leung; casting, Joseph Middleton, Barbara Fiorentino. Reviewed at Loews Metreon, San Francisco, Jan. 9, 2004. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Lonnie - Eddie Griffin G. - Anthony Anderson Dominick - Michael Imperioli No Good - Method Man Uncle Virgil - John Amos Xi Xi - Bai Ling Brandy - Marsha Thomason Nia - Joanna Bacalso Annabelle - Amy Sedaris Drive By - Tiny Lister Peaches - Dee Freeman Cha Ching - Dennis Akiyama
With: Bobbie J. Thompson, Randy & Jason Sklar, Naomi Gaskin, Fred Lee, Wynne Pon, Mung Ling Tsui, Scott Thompson.
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