April 24, 2008

Baby Mama

Listen girls, I was killing aliens when you
two were still catching the bus to school.

Grade: C +
Director: Michael McCullers
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, and Maura Tierney
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

The most cautionary – and perplexing – aspect about the Tina Fey vehicle Baby Mama is not the fact that its humor runs no deeper than its trite title, but that Fey did not write the screenplay. That (dis)credit goes to ex-Saturday Night Live scribe Michael McCullers (Undercover Brother and the second Austin Powers movie is the good news; Thunderbirds and the third Austin Powers movie is the bad), who also directs this surprisingly tepid take on pregnancy and surrogate motherhood.

To the extent Fey – herself a new mother and the scribe of Mean Girls and 30 Rock – appears more comfortable training her trademark acerbic wit on milieus with which she is both familiar and latently disdainful of (high school; the corporate world of broadcast television) than the miracle of childbirth.

When Fey’s Kate Holbrook, VP for a health food conglomerate headed by a middle-age uptown hippie (Steve Martin, hilarious in spurts), learns she is functionally infertile, she hires an uncouth woman, Angie (Amy Poehler, now definitively funnier on TV than films), to be her surrogate mother. Kate and Angie’s Betty & Veronica act traverses the well-worn travails of pregnancy, while banalities over who is really pregnant – and by who – dominate a film that also features a parade of SNLers marching to the beat of composer Jeff Richmond’s painfully saccharine soundtrack.

A welcome collection of second-tier celebrities populate the supporting roles – including Sigourney Weaver as head of a surrogate clinic, Dax Shepard as Angie’s white trash common-law husband, and Maura Tierney as Kate’s sister (will Tierney ever get a really good role?) – but they are given little in the way of workable material. Romany Malco gets the sharpest lines, but it is in the role of the proverbial black, jive-talkin’ doorman. Greg Kinnear proves perhaps the best of the lot as Rob, a juice-bar owner who falls for Kate, but even he looks as though locked in a one-man battle to elevate an otherwise uneven and underwritten role.

Long before the water starts breaking, this film meanders with the energy of an old river. McCullers’ idea of humor is a birthing instructor with a lisp, who McCullers returns to no less than three times for a comedic booster shot. In the meantime, the road to convert Fey into leading lady status proves a bumpy one, and while her brand of comedy is seen by many as the kindler, gentler alternative to the crass masculinity of Apatow oeuvre, what Baby Mama needs is a lot more Knocked Up and a lot less Baby Boom.

Neil Morris

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