Lopez radiant as always

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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Her 'Back-up Plan' is heavy on the pregnancy cliches, though

"The Back-up Plan" gets sitcommy early and often, and just for good measure, throws in old TV favourites Tom Bosley and Linda Lavin in brief roles.

But regardless of their presence, or that of the appealing (and frequently shirtless) Alex O'Loughlin in his first leading-man role, this is a vehicle for Jennifer Lopez, who is front and centre and looking flawless at all times.

"The Back-up Plan" gets sitcommy early and often, and just for good measure, throws in old TV favourites Tom Bosley and Linda Lavin in brief roles.

But regardless of their presence, or that of the appealing (and frequently shirtless) Alex O'Loughlin in his first leading-man role, this is a vehicle for Jennifer Lopez, who is front and centre and looking flawless at all times.

The first time we see her character, Zoe, she's at the doctor's office with her feet in the stirrups being artificially inseminated, wearing false eyelashes and perfect lip gloss.

In case we couldn't possibly imagine what she's thinking, the script from Kate Angelo (a former sitcom writer) offers this helpful voiceover nugget, "Oh, God, I hope this works. I've wanted this for so long."

Yeah, it's like that.

Director Alan Poul (who also has a TV background) hits every obvious note, complete with pratfalls, pregnancy cliches and cheesy pop-music cues that signal the characters' emotions in painfully literal fashion.

Of course, Zoe eats chicken and ice cream in bed while reading "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

He also cuts away to Zoe's Boston terrier for cheap reaction shots so frequently, it could be a drinking game - and this comes from someone who's proud to be the human companion to one of these adorable dogs.

All these devices are in service of a plot that's pretty thin.

After years of looking for the right guy, Zoe is prepared to have a baby on her own, only to meet and fall for the hunky Stan (O'Loughlin) just as she's discovered she's pregnant.

Their meet-cute couldn't possibly be cuter: both hop into the same New York cab in the pouring rain.

And Stan couldn't possibly be more perfect.

He's great-looking, romantic, goofy in a charming way, has just the right amount of roguish facial scruff and he makes organic cheese at his family's farm upstate.

Organic cheese, people!

And somehow, he clearly still finds time to hit the gym.

Since they get together pretty early, the rest of the movie consists of contrived flare-ups that threaten to keep them apart.

Will Stan freak out and walk away when he finds out Zoe is expecting? How will he react when he discovers she's having twins? Will Zoe freak out and walk away from Stan because of her childhood abandonment issues? Will there be a mad dash to the hospital once her water breaks?

The answers to these questions are never really in doubt.

"The Back-up Plan" actually could have been helpful in addressing a situation in which so many women find themselves: wanting to be mothers, but unwilling to compromise to be with the wrong man to accomplish that goal. Instead, it presents the fellow members of Zoe's single mothers' group as tattooed, fringy freaks hell-bent on home water births and smugly breastfeeding their kids until age 3.

On the other end of the spectrum is Zoe's wisecracking best friend, Mona (Michaela Watkins of "Saturday Night Live"), a mother of four kids who are constantly running around and screaming.

Admittedly, she gets the few funny lines "The Back-up Plan" has to offer. Lavin (as Zoe's Nana) and Bosley (as Nana's longtime nursing-home fiance) just look embarrassed in their few scenes.

The one moment that rings true? When Stan goes stroller shopping at Babies R Us and finds himself overwhelmed.

And the store clerk just happens to be the actress who played Jan Brady in the "Brady Bunch" movies.

1 1/2 stars out of four

Organizations: Babies R Us

Geographic location: Boston, New York

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