The Back-Up Plan

There was a time back in the late 90s when Jennifer Lopez seemed to have a fairly promising movie career ahead of her. In 1998 she followed up her award-winning turn as the Latin pop singer in Selena with what’s still her best performance, as a U.S. Marshall in Out of Sight.

Then the 00s came along, and, along with them, a string of really bad movies. From The Wedding Planner to Maid in Manhattan to Monster-in-Law (don’t even get me started on Gigli), she seemed to be going out of her way to sign up for roles so cheesy that even the likes of Katherine Heigl would have turned them down.

So now, after a five-year break to enjoy married life and have twins, she’s back. And off to a pretty good start.

As the owner of a NYC pet shop in The Back-Up Plan, Lopez plays Zoe, a 40-ish woman who (nervous that she’s never going to find Mr. Right) gets artificially inseminated. As she walks out of the doctor’s office though, then (and only then!) she meets the man of her dreams, goat farmer and cheese-maker Stan, (Alex O’Loughlin.)

It’s no surprise that The Back-Up Plan, directed by first-timer Alan Poul and written by Kate Angelo (also a first-timer), is chock-full of clichés, even peppered generously with the ol’ standby– the bubbly song by a female pop star (Colbie Caillat? Check.) But what is a surprise is Lopez herself. Her performance keeps the movie afloat and, surprisingly, makes it rather entertaining.

Case in point: During Zoe’s road trip to Stan’s farm (with ferocious, with-child appetite in tow), her all-out assault on a pot of stew is a moment that could very easily have been an eye-roller had it featured almost any other rom-com actress working today (Kate Hudson, I’m looking at you). But Lopez’s charm turns it into a laugh-out-loud scene.

The same can’t be said of her man, unfortunately. Alternating between creepy stalker and sappy goofball for the first half-hour of the movie, Stan eventually becomes little more than wallpaper… a shirtless hunk on a tractor and a (generally) warm, caring man who wants to open his own sustainable food shop. It’s a thankless role, and O’Loughlin can’t do much more than sit there and look pretty.

Zoe’s single-mom support group, though, has its share of scene-stealing moments. Led by Melissa McCarthy (The Gilmore Girls’ Sookie), the gaggle of she-woman, man-haters provides what’s easily the funniest scene in the entire movie, complete with equal measures of insanity, mayhem, and Lopez’s priceless reaction to it all.

The Back-Up Plan is more than a decent time. It’s fun, but it’s silly. It’s romantic, but it’s sappy. And it’s cute, but it’s occasionally crass.

And bit parts from 70s sit-com icons Linda Lavin (Alice) and Tom Bosley (Happy Days) only add to it.

Jennifer Lopez’s movie career, take two.

3.5/5 stars