Ah, the infant - cinema's biological cure-all. Give a movie a messed up couple with a mountain of problems, or a young woman working on several self-esteem issues, and watch as reproduction works its zygote-induced magic. From She's Having a Baby to Parenthood, Juno
to Knocked Up
, pregnancy and all the surrounding hormonal hoopla supposedly symbolizes life celebrating itself. In the new Tina Fey
comedy Baby Mama, it's just a manipulative means to a grossly unfunny end.
Super career-woman Kate Holbrook (Fey) has it all -- the ear of her wingnut organic foods tycoon Barry (Steve Martin
), a cushy vice-presidency, and a fab-o apartment in Philadelphia. All she lacks is a genetic duplicate of her own professional perfection. Sadly, her internal lady parts can't supply a womb with a view. After trying every available procedure, she resorts to hiring a surrogate. After some bun in the oven bartering with baby broker Chaffee Bicknell (Sigourney Weaver
), Holbrook meets Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler
), a working class gal with a white trash persona and a heart as large as a Big Gulp. When things go awry in her relationship, she moves in with Holbrook. Middling hijinx ensue. Article continues below
Baby Mama lives up to at least half of its title. It's a whiny, juvenile mess. It soils itself regularly and can't fend for itself, especially among the more sophisticated sophmoronics of the Apatow gang. It does a disservice to its competent cast, argues for clichés instead of creativity, and misunderstands the very basics of what drives a big screen comedy. Let's face it -- this is the kind of movie that still believes Steve Martin is funny. Yet all Mr. Once Was Wild and Crazy is doing is channeling Hank Scorpio from The Simpsons. Under the first-time directorial flop sweat of writer Michael McCullers
(the co-writing mind behind the overrated Austin Powers films), Fey and Poehler are locked in a battle of competing patchiness. Neither one elevates their game to anything remotely resembling humor.
Even worse, the plot plods around aimlessly, looking for ways to capitalize on pop culture shout-outs (Video games! Hip-hop lingo!) and old-school stereotypes. Fey is viewed as the uptight intellectual unable to conceive because she's out of touch with her inner breeding goddess. Poehler is supposed to be smart enough to carry on a conversation, but also trapped in a Jerry Springer meets Judge Judy style of sloppy social fertility. Together, they find the kind of common ground only a screenplay provides, and both learn the value of being full of fetus and darn proud of it.
Yet the biggest sin Baby Mama commits is being incessantly dull. McCullers' style could best be described as the setup for a punchline that never comes. He gives his actors room to breathe, and they consistently choke. Martin's New Age Zen zaniness grows tired quickly, and Fey can only move between nurturing and neurotic. Of everyone involved (including a completely underwritten Greg Kinnear as Fey's wuss in shining armor), only Poelher pulls off the material. She makes Angie semi-tolerable, redefining the dimwitted doofus for today's PC-oriented demo.
When Diane Keaton's Baby Boom looks like Monsieur Hulot's Holiday by comparison and you can't surpass My Baby's Daddy in the wit department, you need to start thinking about adopting some true talent. Baby Mama blows its chance to be a fiery, feminized take on what has traditionally been an idyllic view of motherhood. Instead, we end up with a diaper overflowing with formula, uninteresting drudgery dotted with as much pabulum as pandering.