The Back-Up Plan; PG-13, 98 minutes; Regal Downtown Mall 6


The premise alone might induce morning sickness: Jennifer Lopez plays a single Manhattanite who wants to get pregnant without waiting any longer to meet Mr. Right. So she gets pregnant. Then she meets Mr. Right. Uh oh! 

Conception precedes romance—but not in the usual way—for Jennifer Lopez in The Back-Up Plan, a romantic comedy from first-time director Alan Poul.

Here is what we know about Zoe. She lost her parents at a young age. She used to work in the corporate world, but now owns a pet store, which she has staffed with prodding, protective friends who otherwise lack any personality. She has a shrieky best friend, played by Michaela Watkins, who is a mother of several small children and advocates against motherhood, generally, by saying things like, “I will show you my vagina.” And she has a Nana, played by Linda Lavin, who has unwittingly set an example of commitment phobia that Zoe must learn to transcend.

Here is what we know about Stan. He had a cheating wife once. Otherwise, he’s available. He is played by Alex O’Loughlin, as a strapping goat farmer with a dream of starting his own sustainable cheese shop. 

The movie itself is a cheese shop, of course, and it’s going out of business. Its plan to dispatch all the hackneyed rom-com courtship conflicts and pregnancy plot points probably seemed shrewd to the filmmakers. But ultimately, The Back-Up Plan makes an hour and a half of screen time start to feel like nine very long months. 

Is it too much to ask for a love connection between two strangers, who slip into the same cab, one of whom was just artificially inseminated? The animated opening title sequence, which looks like M. Sasek by way of a disposable women’s magazine, pitches a plausible situational fusion of classic and contemporary. But then the movie proceeds to pander, and never lets up.

Positioning his comely stars among such cute-because-they’re-kinda-sad accessories like a wheelchair-bound Boston Terrier, an enfeebled Tom Bosley, and an oh-so-wacky single mothers support group, director Alan Poul exerts just enough control to ensure that sitcom stalwart Kate Angelo’s script never surrenders its contrivances. Poul presides confidently over this glossy and moneyed production, dishing up the requisite soundtrack full of orchestral rom-com pizzicato and twee heartache pop. He also goes so far as to supply a cozy bedroom scene in which J-Lo gets asked, “Why do you have a picture of your ass?” Which is basically the movie’s way of pretending not to take itself too seriously. Well, now we know for sure that the way to transcend banality is to not pass it off as humility. 

Early on, The Back-Up Plan was called Plan B. Access to emergency contraception is more important than ever.