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Thursday, May 24, 2012 04:53 pm

Expecting a big-screen sit-com

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Chris Rock as Vic and Rodrigo Santoro as Nate in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

The movies I hate most are those that play it safe, the ones that refuse to take any chances in their quest for laughs or tears. Boundary pushing is not for those who operate in this milquetoast territory and their hearts are too faint to instill any sort of dramatic edge. Nope, the middle of the road is where they live. The work they produce is as safe and dull as a padded cell that’s been whitewashed.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting is that sort of film, the type of movie that sucks the will to live out of anyone forced to sit through it. It serves as a black mark on the filmography of anyone foolish enough to act in it. Based on the indispensible and omnipresent prenatal instructional tome by Heidi Murkoff, the movie revolves around five different couples who are expecting, all of who have some unique twist to the circumstances surrounding the blessed event. And while these folks all seem to be disconnected, you can bet that in this piece of hyperlink cinema light, they’ll all cross paths one way or another.

Photographer Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) are the couple who can’t conceive so they decide to adopt. Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and Gary (Ben Falcone) are the overcautious parents-to-be as it has taken them so long to conceive. They find themselves overshadowed by his father, Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), and his much-younger trophy wife, Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), who are also expecting. Meanwhile, celebrity fitness guru Jules (Cameron Diaz) ends up with a bun in the oven after she sleeps with her game show dance partner Evan (Matthew Morrison). And youngsters Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford) find themselves in a family way after a one-night stand.

Not much happens in the way of character development, so the sketchy descriptions above will have to suffice. The movie stumbles badly during its first hour as it sets up simplistic and predictable comedic situations. It feels as if screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach were required to include every already recycled pregnancy joke they’d ever seen or heard. Yep, that morning sickness gag never gets old.

The film does play against expectations at times. A group of beleaguered fathers known as the “Dude’s Group,” who get together every Saturday with kids in tow to grouse about their situations, actually delivers a surprise or two in the third act when we’re allowed to see what their true feelings about fatherhood are. Also of note is a moment in which Wendy, who runs her own baby shop, has the mother of all pregnant lady meltdowns at a child care expo. The ensuing reaction to her painfully truthful diatribe about the trials of pregnancy is perhaps the most honest moment in the film and one I suspect mothers everywhere will embrace.

Yet, for every moving moment (the scene in which Holly and Alex first meet their son is a keeper) there are at least five awkward ones. There’s talent enough behind the camera with director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) at the helm and there’s certainly enough in front of it as well. Unfortunately, despite all of the expectations the cast and crew may elicit, in the end Expecting fails to deliver.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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