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Like Gigli, Only Nastier

Movie Review: The Back-up Plan (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Not since Gigli has a JLo romance been such a god-awful failure, a shameless and sucking excuse for a date movie, with a runtime of 104 minutes that feels like double that.

As for seeing JLo perform, with her customarily innocent and helpless-looking puppy dog disposition, she is still not hard on the eyes (though she has been known to cause hardening in certain other body parts), and she is first and foremost a singer. But JLo and her performance isn't the problem to be had, neither is her work with chemistry-connected co-star, Alex O'Loughlin.

Lopez and O'Loughlin are Zoe and Stan, two New York strangers who meet coincidentally when they both get into the same cab. From there, it's the old recipe of one trying to mentally own the other until several dates end in a fiery-but-fractured romance.

Though it has some of the earmarks, The Back-up Plan should not be considered a chick-flick. In a chick-flick, you get the emotional let-outs, the fickle behavior designed to frustrate men, spoken diaries, secret loves, and other male-unknowables, like inexplicable crying spells. I can deal with those. You can deal with those if you don’t outright like them.

What we can't as easily forgive is a movie that offers us not a stitch of novelty, but shoves in every clich├ęd component until it hurts. Director Alan Poul puts less focus on building emotional connections or constructing characters with some level of sophistication, choosing instead to put more on trying to tickle you with humor that can only bring on bouts of nausea with the gags, ploys, and visual imagery that is guaranteed to assault every one of your five senses.

Zoe has trust issues. Stan doesn't have a great history with marriage and he doesn't want kids. Zoe receives news that she has a child on the way. The child is not from him, but the result of her decision to be inseminated. What conflict! If you didn't know the two were going to clash, you do now. The cat is out of the bag. You can predict everything that is going to happen except how low things will go in this gross cinematic. 

Bad: The attractive girl with a big heart quits her corporate career to start her own animal shelter for dogs. She is proudly woman, (not afraid to consider insemination, remember), and effectively says: “I don't need a man.” No, she actually says that in so many words. She takes her handicapped dog everywhere, and the thing whimpers and turns its head sideways all throughout the film. It’s a dog that eats pregnancy tests.

The dog route would have been a no-no for a good director, but since we’re not dealing with a competent director, we have to point out that the dog route could have been made to work. But you would have needed three times as many dogs as there are people to get this a passing grade because it's the people that screw it up.

Like every dreaming woman in many a cheap romance movie, Zoe wonders about ever meeting the right guy, “the one.” You might be asking how a girl who proudly says she doesn't need a man dreams about meeting the right man. Don't wonder. The answer is easy—we're talking about women here. That's what the writers try ever so hard to make sure every viewer gets. Zoe is a conflicted girl who doesn't know what she wants. I can still work with that.

Very bad: meeting in a cab (in New York, of course), in the rain where the two both discover how stubborn they are, parting ways and meeting up again in random places (as if by destiny), getting detoured from a kiss by a ringing cellphone, Zoe eating stew like a pig, and making love in a cheese room while complaining about the smell. Try mentioning stinky cheese smells before copulation. Let me know how it works for you.

A pregnant Zoe is soon unable to fit into her old clothes, so she throws them onto the floor and at Stan. She vomits all over the place, especially when anyone mentions or shows her seafood—vomiting and fish, two more appetite-killing buzzwords for the viewer.

Absolutely Intolerable: three-year-olds breastfeeding and stopping to explain how right it is, call-outs on blushing, telling first kiss stories to a virtual stranger, revelation killers where someone changes the subject before the other one reveals a plot-altering truth, breathing into brown paper bags for shock relief, kids that pick up animal excrement on playgrounds and treat it like Play-Doh, an old male gynecologist who uses the word “vagina” over and over to soften up the sensitivities of patients and their guests, and meeting friends at the park who assume that all men who put their hands in their pockets are automatic pedophiles.

Yet More Intolerable: Zoe and Stan go to a house birth with Zoe’s independent mothers support group. The birth is to be a water birth in a pool in the living room. There, a woman gives birth with a hazy-but-distinguishable close-up shot of her unshaven vagina while her “sisters” beat drums and sing, marching around her as she shoots out a terd in the pool, which is promptly scooped out with a strainer and carried across the living room. This isn't funny. This is cringe-worthy stuff, given the OK by a first-time big picture director whose work should have been canned before it started, or more carefully considered by Lopez before signing on.

The overacting for nearly the first hour of the film is not as bad as the energy-sucking presence of Zoe’s best friend, Mona (Michaela Watkins), who manages to rip apart every scene she is in. The mock lesbianic suggestiveness could have been funny if anyone to do with the making of the film had taste.

It is doubtful that even the hairiest forearmed and most housebound of Rosie O'Donnell supporters and would-be mates could write a script that manages to repel such a wide percentage of the viewing audience. But stranger things have happened. 

(JH)

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Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for sexual content, including references, some crude material, and language)
Director: Alan Poul
Summary: A woman conceives twins through artificial insemination, only to meet the man of her dreams the very same day.
Starring: Jennifer Lopez "Zoe," Alex O'Loughlin "Stan," Michaela Watkins "Mona," Eric Christian Olsen "Clive," Anthony Anderson "Playground Dad"
Genre: Comedy / Romance
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