The Back-up Plan is so unbelievably slapdash that it feels like something developed for television. This TV pedigree is further solidified by the “talent” involved in the film’s creation. Director Alan Poul’s CV is comprised of small screen stuff, and The Back-up Plan denotes his big-screen debut. All of screenwriter Kate Angelo’s previous credits are for television as well, while nearly all of the actors here are TV veterans. Completely lacking so much as a modicum of engaging personality, The Back-up Plan is a bland, excruciating romantic comedy for which the filmmakers attempted to subvert the genre with a unique premise. In this sense it’s semi-clever, but all the potential was wasted on a dull, utterly laugh-less motion picture.
The predictable story focuses on Zoe (Lopez) who’s in her mid-30s and wants to start a family but is without a male relationship to bring it all to life. Fearing she’ll never meet Mr. Right, Zoe decides to elect the single parent route and get artificially inseminated. Of course, never does the movie tell us why reproducing is so important to her, or why she is incapable of dating a guy. In the first scene, she’s already being inseminated. All we get is a few lines of narration to cover the back-story, because the film has to move quickly in order to cover all the clichés. As these things go, Zoe meets the guy of her dreams just minutes afterwards. The guy is Stan (O’Loughlin), and she meets him because they steal each other’s cab. This wacky, unexpected occurrence means the pair must hate each other initially, then meet again, and then fall in love. But, of course, Zoe has fallen pregnant, so Stan will be surprised to learn his girlfriend is expecting a baby. Actually, it’s twins! Can you sense the hilarity that’s about to ensue?
There’s an inkling of a good premise somewhere within The Back-up Plan, yet screenwriter Kate Angelo avoided mining the scenario for legitimate comedy in favour of Screenwriting 101 plot points and non-controversial mainstream fluff. This includes a trademark meet cute, a few grumpy senior citizens, quippy BFFs, cute jobs (Stan owns a goat farm and produces cheese, while Zoe owns a pet shop), and a break-up-to-make-up scenario to set up the film’s oh-so-heart-warming climax. The pregnancy aspect was handled in a familiar manner, too, as the focus was on bathroom humour and birth-related gross-out gags. There’s even a support group of weird stock characters, one of whom breast-feeds a child able to speak in full sentences. Heck, there’s a birth sequence in here as well which would not feel out of place in Rosemary’s Baby. This set-piece was clearly designed to be hilarious, yet it’s more suited for a horror movie. Good job, filmmakers.
The Back-up Plan could have been different from most rom-coms due to the fact that everything is done backwards, with Zoe getting pregnant before she starts dating and before she falls in love (bit like Knocked Up in this sense). But the courtship of Zoe and Stan is rushed through so rigorously that we never get the sense that they’re falling in love. Not to mention, the relationship is amazingly clichéd. When Stan finds out Zoe is pregnant, he’s furious, because rom-coms always need people to get angry about a lie they’ve been told (never mind that Stan has only seen Zoe twice). Mere scenes later, the two have gotten back together and they’re suddenly a committed couple? Where’s the dating and the falling in love? Where’s any evidence of this relationship progressing in a logical manner? Usually it takes an entire film for the leads to commit to a relationship, yet this point is reached in about 45 minutes because the filmmakers were visibly keen to get to the pregnancy shenanigans (Zoe becomes too fat for her clothes, lol). It’s like a movie and its sequel were joined together, and both movies suck.
Director Alan Poul failed to push the material along at a brisk pace, and clearly mistook total inertia for bathing in the moment. Considering its ambitions to be a fluffy, fun movie, The Back-up Plan is tragically sluggish, with little energy to keep it interesting. It goes without saying that the PG-13 rating forbade the filmmakers from tackling edgy material, though it’s doubtful any of these hacks would’ve done anything more worthwhile with an R-rated opportunity. Meanwhile, Zoe and Stan’s attraction is purely physical rather than soulful, meaning their banter lacks the wit the genre has produced in the past. It doesn’t help that Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin are a boring screen couple with zero chemistry. Both performers were clearly sleepwalking. Anthony Anderson is responsible for the only worthwhile moments of the film; he plays a father who tells Stan what it’s like to have a child. It’s a shame these scenes constitute about five minutes of the agonising 100-minute runtime.
For a romantic comedy to genuinely work for those outside the core demographic, an endearing love story with consistent laughter must be created, yet those behind The Back-up Plan failed on both counts. The romance is uninteresting and the laughs are predictable. Seriously, one could pause the movie 30 seconds into any scene and accurately predict what will happen next, as each joke is broadly telegraphed. A drastically vanilla rom-com with sitcom tendencies, The Back-up Plan is simply woeful.