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Wednesday, April 23, 2008 08:09 pm

An expected delivery

It takes a good cast to raise a child

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Baby Mama Running time 1:36 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace Eest ShowPlace West
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Baby Mama Running time 1:36 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace Eest ShowPlace West

It’s probably too early to dub Tina Fey and Amy Poehler the Martin and Lewis of the 21st century — but comparisons to that duo and other classic comedy teams are likely to follow if the two women continue to make feature films together. With any luck, future collaborations will be better than their first feature film, Baby Mama, a serviceable entertainment that delivers predictable laughs in the tradition of The Odd Couple. It isn’t that the movie is bad; it simply seems beneath the talent of its two stars, who’ve teamed up for sketches on Saturday Night Live with sharper edges than this one’s. As written and directed by SNL alum Michael McCullers, Mama is a safe, rather predictable effort that’s salvaged by Fey, Poehler, and the supporting cast. Fey is given the Felix Unger role as Kate Holbrook, a corporate vice president of a chain of health-food markets who has it all together. Her career is on the fast track, she has a trendy apartment, and her boss (Steve Martin) thinks she can do no wrong, so much so that he gives her the assignment of coordinating the opening of the company’s largest store. Of course, Kate isn’t truly happy. She notices that other women her age and younger with children seem more fulfilled, or at least she’s told that they are, and before you know it she hears her biological clock ticking at a frantic pace. Type A personality that she is, Kate explores every avenue of procuring a child, including going to a sperm bank, which proves futile when she’s told that her chances of conceiving are remote. In desperation Kate turns to a surrogate service. She is so eager to be a mother that she buys the manager’s (Sigourney Weaver) overzealous sales pitch hook, line, and sinker. Instead of a mature young professional like herself, though, Kate winds up with Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler), a crass woman from the wrong side of the tracks. Desperate, Kate ignores her misgivings and agrees to let Angie carry her child, a decision she comes to regret on more than one occasion over the next nine months. The expected comedic disasters begin to arise, especially when Angie winds up living with Kate after a falling-out with her loser common-law husband, Carl (Dax Shepard). As her new roommate trashes one room after another, Kate worries about her tony digs, and Angie’s eating habits cause her to fret over the health of her unborn child. Angie just can’t figure out why Kate’s so stressed.
It doesn’t take a Mensa member to see that eventually Kate’s responsible habits will rub off on Angie or that Angie’s sense of spontaneity will have a freeing effect on her new corporate friend. Each woman winds up seeing that the other does have her virtues and adopts them as much as she can without losing her true identity. Kate allows herself to become interested in Rob (Greg Kinnear), a juice-bar owner with questionable taste, and Angie develops a bit of confidence and self-assurance. How things turn out once the baby arrives . . . well, you can probably come up with a pretty accurate guess. The film’s casting director deserves the lion’s share of the credit here. The chemistry generated by Fey and Poehler is natural and dynamic, injecting enough life into the Oscar-and-Felix routine to make it, if not fresh, then mildly amusing. Weaver, an underrated comic performer, gives her role such an air of self-importance that the portrayal approaches mania, and Martin, Kinnear, and Shepard shine as well. A tip of the hat goes to Romany Malco, Kate’s streetwise doorman, who offers sound advice that Kate does not want to hear, and ER’s Maura Tierney as her sane sister. These performers makes the most of their scenes, and though some are not in the spotlight long, together the cast’s contributions ensure the film’s success. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child and in a sense it took this cast to deliver Baby Mama
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