Jennifer Lopez brings chemistry back to the screen

Posted April 29, 2010, at 5:23 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

In theaters

THE BACK-UP PLAN, Directed by Alan Poul, written by Kate Angelo, 98 minutes, rated PG-13.

There are a few things you should expect a slight romantic comedy to deliver, and “The Back-up Plan” delivers every one of them.

You should expect chemistry between good-looking, charismatic leads; solid, witty writing that works hard to earn its laughs; a few moments of hot sex; some manufactured moments of conflict and tension; and a cast of supporting characters who are allowed their moments to shine and deliver their share of laughs.

Something fresh or new in this genre isn’t necessarily what its core audience is seeking. Nobody is looking for “The Pianist” here. Likewise, nobody is coming to this particular movie to see a derivative of “There’s Something About Mary” and the messy trend that film started.

Instead, what they want is a reasonably sexy, enjoyable escape that adheres to a well-worn genre. If the movie is elevated beyond those expectations, great. But a fine time at the movies always will do, and that’s where “The Back-up Plan” comes through. This isn’t a remarkable movie in any way, but it breezed by nicely enough before giving itself over to obscurity. And with a smile, no less.

From Kate Angelo’s script, the film features the cinematic return of Jennifer Lopez, who once owned a major slice of pop culture, saturated it because she couldn’t get enough of it, and lost it when the world got sick of her. Now she’s working her way back, and it has to be said that here she’s more likable than she ever has been even though movies such as “Out of Sight” prove she’s capable of delivering much more.

But so be it. Here, she’s Zoe, a single woman who lives in New York City, owns a pet shop and has yet to find the right guy. With her biological clock ticking, she decides it’s time to use her back-up plan and have the family she never had.

As the movie starts, the decision is made, she’s artificially inseminated by a quirky fertility doctor (Robert Klein) and then — naturally — she meets the smoking hotness that is Stan (Alex O’Loughlin). Sparks fly. Eyes glaze over. Zoe learns that Stan, who makes his living selling goat cheese in the city from his own farm in the country, has aspirations that go beyond maintaining his flawless physique. He actually wants to improve the world by getting behind the whole foods movement, and he’s happy to do it with his shirt off.

So, yes, Zoe obviously would be a fool not to go for him, and even though she knows she shouldn’t, she and Stan soon become an item just as she learns that she’s pregnant. With twins. Cue the aforementioned complications, most of which come down to Zoe’s fear of abandonment and Stan’s fear of having to support a family.

What’s critical to this movie’s success is its supporting cast, who are handed the film’s best lines, and who deliver them with such unbridled wackiness the laughs come more frequently than not. As Zoe’s friend Mona, Michaela Watkins is a groundswell of cynicism, which counters moments that could have become cheesy (sorry) without her there to balance them out. Linda Lavin co-stars as Zoe’s grandmother, and she brings a kind of grace to the growing bombast, which reaches to the heavens as Zoe’s hormones take center stage.

As for Lopez and O’Loughlin, there’s no denying what they bring to the screen — their looks, their comedic timing and their willingness to grin and bear it through the movie’s more cliched scenes. They get the job done, they do it well and Lopez sets herself up for what she really wants — a second chance with the public. She deserves one.

Grade: B

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

THE LOVELY BONES, Directed by Peter Jackson, written by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, 139 minutes, rated PG-13.

Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” is a head trip for audiences, a trip to hell for the family featured and a plunge into purgatory for another.

Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens based their script on Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel, and what they pulled from it is a mostly engrossing film about the Salmons, a middle-class suburban family emotionally destroyed on Dec. 6, 1973, when 14-year-old Susie (a wonderful Saoirse Ronan) is raped. And then murdered. And then broken into parts and cut into pieces. (Everything here is revealed in the trailer. There are no spoilers here.)

Her downfall? Trusting her neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who lures Susie down a well of his own creation. There, the candle-lit environment appears to be the perfect childhood hideaway, complete with sodas, snacks, games and toys. It all seems like a dream until out of nowhere Susie is instructed to be polite. George starts to come undone. From here, it all goes terribly wrong.

This is a review of the movie, not the book, which I’ve not read, but that’s fine since any movie needs to stand on its own. I’m coming to it clean.

The movie is composed of several parts. While Susie is alive, it’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl with a crush on an older boy (Reese Ritchie). When she’s murdered, she goes into the “In-Between,” a ripe, hyperfantasy world in which colors explode on the screen, leaves fly off trees as if they were birds and mountains move. It’s beautiful, it’s intoxicating, sometimes it’s a bit much — but it’s anything Susie wants it to be.

And yet, as Susie herself notes in the narration that accompanies the film, she knows that “I wasn’t gone — I was alive in my own perfect world. But in my heart, I knew it wasn’t perfect. My murderer still haunted me.” It’s this that brings us to the film’s third and most satisfying part. A good deal of “The Lovely Bones” is a well-conceived thriller, particularly since Susie’s mother and father (Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg), along with their daughter Lindsey (Rose McIver) and the police detective (Michael Imperioli) working the case, come together to find the killer and bring him down.

Joining them is Susie’s boozy, saucy grandmother (Susan Sarandon, happy to be here, happier to be having a good time), who initially offers the living Susie a smoky kind of knowing love before events turn dour as attention turns to George. Could it be that he’s the killer? Everyone in the audiences knows he is, but it’s how this family unit dares to find out — a scene involving Lindsey breaking into George’s house is terrific in the suspense it offers — that makes “Bones” a flawed but well-acted and worthwhile thriller.

Grade: B

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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