The Back-Up Plan

Movie Information

The Story: No sooner does pet-store owner Zoe get artificially inseminated than she meets Mr. Right. Complications follow. The Lowdown: It's not very romantic. It's not very funny. It's not very dramatic. By my count, that's three strikes against any romcom/drama.
Genre: Romcom/Drama
Director: Alan Poul
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Loughlin, Michaela Watkins, Eric Christian Olsen, Anthony Anderson
Rated: PG-13

Apparently, you can take the TV network out of the small screen, but you can’t take the small screen out of the TV network. Based on the evidence of Extraordinary Measures, The Back-Up Plan and the trailer for the upcoming movie Beastly (did a title ever look more self-descriptive?), CBS Films has had a love child with the Lifetime Network. The spawn of that conjugal nightmare has been crawling across movie screens everywhere, leaving a trail of mediocrity in its wake. Loads of production gloss and wide-screen cinematography do not hide the TV mind-set.

I’ll concede that I didn’t actively hate The Back-Up Plan. I only checked the time on my phone once, so I can’t call it painful. Neither can I call it remotely good. I can say that Jennifer Lopez is fine in it. I can say that newly-promoted-to-leading-man Alex O’Loughlin is solidly OK (O’Loughlin has previously been seen on TV and at least five notches down on the cast lists of some pretty unmemorable movies). Other than that, what we have is a movie that simply follows its strictly one-note high-concept premise and arrives at its destination with seeming effortlessness.

Jennifer Lopez is Zoe, a woman who dropped out of the corporate world to run a pet store—and since people in movies of this type never seem to have significant financial issues, her store is apparently phenomenally successful. She also has abandonment and intimacy issues (say, don’t we all?) and a burning desire to have a family before her biological clock winds down. So, Zoe gets herself artificially inseminated (by a doctor played by Robert Klein, no less), after which she immediately proceeds to “meet cute” with goat-farming cheese-maker Stan (O’Loughlin). The script—realizing it needs to achieve feature length—likes this so much that the pair keeps meeting cute before she breaks down and goes on a date with the hunky purveyor of goat cheese. And once Zoe sees him with his shirt off, she’s completely gaga (Zoe is very deep).

The problem—as you know if you’ve seen the trailer or more than six movies in your life—is that Zoe got pregnant on the first try via artificial insemination. Apparently, it doesn’t usually happen this way, but thanks to clever scripting, it does here. Will the lonely goat herder still want her if she’s pregnant with the child of some anonymous sperm donor? And there we have the entire crux of the rest of the movie. At first, the news gets Stan’s goat. Then, he thinks the better of it. And then? OK, you know that standard romcom formula where the couple breaks up in the penultimate reel and everything gets gloomy for a while, so they can get back together in the final reel? Well, the filmmakers know it, too, and they like it—a lot. And so, since there’s really no place for this thing to go, they use it at least three times before getting to the real—really, no foolin’—penultimate-reel breakup.

The movie is padded with guest bits for Linda Lavin, Tom Bosley and Cesar Millan, which only exacerbates the TV-show feel. There’s also a single-mother support group ripped off from About a Boy (2002), right down to giving it an acronym. Oh, and let’s not forget Nuts the Boston Terrier, who must get about 20 reaction close-ups in the course of the film. (This is about as annoying as those e-mails your mother forwards you that are headed, “So cute!”) And before you ask the two most obvious burning questions, no, Lopez never milks a goat, and yes, Stan names a cheese after her. I am not at all sure how one should take the latter. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including references, some crude material and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

6 thoughts on “The Back-Up Plan

  1. Ken Hanke

    Love your review, but hey I’m one of those irratatoes who sends, ‘so cute!’ emails!

    Maybe so, but you don’t forward them to me. Don’t tell me you’re the one that forwards them to my mother? Do you forward the ones headed “So true?” Those are worse. I always know it’s going to be some kind of downhome bromide about how much better things used to be.

  2. Andy

    Oh Thank God I don’t know the ‘So true’ category. I did get one on adorable baby animals that as soon as I figure out your email address is headed your way.

Leave a Reply