There's an old saying that goes, "find a penny, pick it up; all day long, you'll see Jennifer Lopez eat chili with her bare hands." Maybe I don't have that right, but neither does The Back-Up Plan -- a gross-out yuck-fest disguised as a generic Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy. The image on the poster features Lopez playfully covering the eyes of her co-star Alex O'Loughlin, perhaps to spare him the carnival of vomit, feces, and vaginal blood that this movie mistakes for actual comedy writing.
I will give the filmmakers a little credit for not having the entire movie build up to the big moment where Lopez, as wealthy pet shop owner Zoe, reveals to her new beau, chiseled goat herder Stan (O'Loughlin), that she's pregnant with a test tube baby. The film opens with her in the stirrups, longing to create a family she can call her own, but immediately afterward she meets Stan, a perfect fairy-tale prince of a man, who picks up pennies for good luck, makes his own cheese, plows with his shirt off, and dreams of owning his own sustainable food boutique in New York City.
You might assume that the film becomes a wacky comedy of errors, as Zoe tries to hide her pregnancy from Stan, while the two fall in love, leading to the time-tested "but I love you anyway" confession from Stan once he finds out he's a surprise daddy to a kid he never expected. Strangely, that's not what The Back-Up Plan has in store. Instead it becomes a female riff on Knocked Up, about a young couple's struggles with impending parenthood, while the two are still in the brand new getting-to-know-you phase of their relationship.
The difference is that most of Knocked Up's humor is verbal, while The Back-Up Plan's is physical. Yes, you will get to see Lopez eat chili with her bare hands, but that's only half as disgusting as a close-up on a pregnancy test sinking into a pile of fresh dog vomit. A scene in which Robert Klein, playing Zoe's OB-GYN, shows off his blood-covered hands while repeating, "Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!" won't have Judd Apatow losing any sleep, nor will the moment in which a stereotypical hippie-dippy lesbian on all fours defecates into a kiddie pool while giving birth and pulls J-Lo into the dirty water. How about the part where Anthony Anderson tries to identify the owner of a found turd?
The owner of this particular turd is CBS Films, who seem determined to mismatch huge movie stars with uninspired material. Jennifer Lopez in a gross-out comedy is as misguided an idea as Harrison Ford in a big-screen version of a disease-of-the-week flick (CBS's first film was Extraordinary Measures, which our Jeff Anderson called "a lazy movie" in his review). The Back-Up Plan is also lazy, full of contrived emotional baggage for our heroine so that some measure of conflict can be forced into a conflict-free situation.
Stan is so over the moon for Zoe, that director Alan Poul and writer Kate Angelo struggle to find ways to create dramatic tension. They have Zoe push Stan away repeatedly, for no real believable reason (including his second-date confession that he attends night school -- which somehow leads her to call him a liar and drive away in a huff), and by the third or fourth time she shows him the door, only for him to come back and apologize (for nothing), you wish he'd go away and stay away for his own good. Permanent separation is not really what you should want for the sexy young couple in a romantic comedy.
Poop is also not high on my list of things I want from a romantic comedy. I've certainly seen comedies that were more gross than The Back-Up Plan, and the real crime here is that for a gross-out comedy, The Back-Up Plan is still too sugar-sweet to back up its own vulgarity. Just showing me a pile of puke is not really its own joke, so why even show it? Is the mere concept that doo-doo exists enough to make me laugh? Hasn't been for a very long time. The Back-Up Plan wants to be Knocked Up for the chick flick set, but an argument could be made that Knocked Up was already that movie for the chick flick set -- it does star Katherine Heigl, after all. That leaves The Back-Up Plan struggling for a reason to exist, and, no, the two-second shot of Lopez in a thong is not enough of a reason.