'The Back-Up Plan'

This tepid romantic comedy falls somewhere between a sitcom pilot and a second-tier Hallmark movie.

Translating “The Back-up Plan” into formats more traditionally associated with CBS, this tepid romantic comedy falls somewhere between a weak sitcom pilot and a second-tier Hallmark movie. Only the presence of Jennifer Lopez distinguishes the project’s bigscreen credentials from its smallscreen elements, although pic’s best hope of wooing a female audience is really Alex O’Loughlin, the swoon-inducing Aussie whom CBS has previously cast in two canceled dramas on the network side. Loosely translated into Twitter-worthy terms, as romantic comedies with J-Lo go, it’s well B-Lo par.

Like many a romance with a twist, this one suffers mainly from a deficiency of fleshed-out material to stretch the on-again, off-again relationship much past an hour. As such, director Alan Poul (CBS’ “Swingtown”) and sitcom writer Kate Angelo have to keep throwing in poorly contrived flare-ups and hurdles to prolong the inevitable.

The audience meets Zoe (Lopez) with her legs in stirrups, in the midst of being artificially inseminated by an anonymous sperm donor. (Robert Klein does the honors, joining Linda Lavin, as her nana, and Tom Bosley among the under-used veterans doing what little they can to augment a heavily two-character piece.)

Said second character is Stan (O’Loughlin), a farmer-cheesemaker who first encounters Zoe in the ultimate New York version of “meet cute,” as the two simultaneously hop into the same cab.

Zoe is fully prepared to go it alone as a single mom without a “penis partner,” as they describe it at a support group, but her budding romance with Stan rapidly complicates matters. Given that the two hook up relatively early, they have to essentially take turns throwing petulant fits before gravitating back to each other.

It doesn’t help, frankly, that the supporting cast has so little to do; by rights, third billing should go to Zoe’s pushcart-bound French bulldog. About halfway through, for example, Anthony Anderson rather inexplicably pops in as a playground dad, serving scant purpose other than to regale Stan with homespun wisdom about fatherhood.

Then again, everything else is pretty much window dressing to admiring the central duo, and in that respect, O’Loughlin actually occupies centerstage. Indeed, despite a surprisingly direct discussion about the quality of Zoe’s ass as she laments pregnancy’s effect on those famous curves, the movie seems to recognize its principal asset by laboring to depict Stan shirtless whenever possible.

Even by standards of the genre, it’s a weightless affair, barring one fairly blue moment at a group childbirth session. The result is likely to test not only Lopez’s movie-opening power — inasmuch as nothing else, technically or otherwise, really distinguishes it from an evening spent watching Lifetime — but CBS’ midsized movie strategy as well.

At one point, somebody says reassuringly, “In a year’s time this is just going to be a funny memory.” Except perhaps for those introduced to O’Loughlin by the film, “The Back-up Plan” will probably be neither.

The Back-up Plan

Production

A CBS Films release of an Escape Artists production. Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch. Executive producers, Rodney Liber, David Bloomfield. Co-producers, Lance Johnson, Christine Coggins. Directed by Alan Poul. Screenplay, Kate Angelo.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Xavier Perez Grobet; editor, Priscilla Nedd-Friendly; music, Stephen Trask; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Alec Hammond; art director, Priscilla Elliott; set decorator, Kathy Lucas; costume designer, Karen Patch; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Jim Stuebe; supervising sound editors, Kami Asgar, Sean McCormack; assistant director, Vincent Lascoumes; casting, David Rubin, Richard Hicks. Reviewed at Aidikoff screening room, Beverly Hills, April 6, 2010. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Zoe - Jennifer Lopez Stan - Alex O'Loughlin Mona - Michaela Watkins Clive - Eric Christian Olsen Playground Dad - Anthony Anderson Daphne - Noureen DeWulf Carol - Melissa McCarthy
With: Linda Lavin, Tom Bosley, Robert Klein.

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