Monday, April 28, 2008

Tina Fey and her Poehler Opposite

It's Number One at this week's box office. It's ...

Baby Mama (d. Michael McCullers)

Comedies are more fixated on genitalia than ever it seems. And they're always kind of fixated, so that's saying something. Earlier this month we had the male-member-baring Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and now there's Baby Mama, a film that is entirely about the uterus. Consider it a form of rebuttal; the comedy equivalent of fair and balanced.

But whereas Sarah Marshall started with a little shock and awe ... well, shock, anyway ... then broadened its horizons to examine genuine emotions, Baby Mama remains firmly fixed in sitcomland for its entire hour forty.

Not surprising considering that it's star, Tina Fey, is currently anchoring one of the best sitcoms on TV, "30 Rock," and its writer/director, Michael McCullers, is a cohort of Fey's from her days as the Head Writer on "Saturday Night Live." And for about the running time of a super-size NBC comedy, Baby Mama is very funny.

Fey plays Liz Lemon ... Ooops. I mean she plays the completely different character Kate Holbrook, a brainy executive with little social aptitude. Nothing at all like Liz Lemon.

When Kate starts hearing the ticking of her biological clock like Marisa Tomei stomping on a wooden porch, she decides to take matters into her own hands (ahem!) and utilize the resources of a fertility clinic. But it turns out that her T-shaped uterus is unlikely to produce offspring, so her next option is surrogacy.

After an encounter with the head of a service that pairs prospective parents with surrogates (a very funny Sigourney Weaver), she meets up with white-trashy Angie Ostrowiski, played by Fey's old "Weekend Update" partner Amy Poehler. Angie and her common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepard, also very funny and sadly under-used here) agree to have Angie carry Kate's baby. Then Carl and Angie split up and she moves in with Kate.

Two opposite personalities in the same apartment? Can they live together without driving each other crazy?

Despite the cliched comedy set-up, both Fey and Poehler manage some big laughs playing off each other; their chemistry is strong. The film is at its best with the two of them batting lines and looks back and forth.

Not so strong, however, is McCullers's script, which relies on obvious twists and turns that never feel like anything other than the manipulative hand of the writer. I'm usually terrible at guessing how a movie will end, and I had this one called within a couple of minutes. By the time the film reaches its third act, it is seriously running out of steam, leaning on long montages and losing its comic footing.

But there's real humor in both lead performances: Fey plays desperate and exasperated nicely while Poehler does a character who's one leg and a few IQ points ahead of her "SNL" staple Amber, The Girl With One Leg.

There are also some able supporting turns by Greg Kinnear as a fruit smoothie peddling potential beau for Kate, and Steve Martin, doing a couple of extended cameos as Kate's New Age earth-friendly boss, Barry.

It's not a great comedy by any stretch, but Baby Mama delivers enough of the funny to merit a recommendation. It just wasn't as easy a delivery as I might have liked.

3 stars.

No comments:

John and Dave talks Oscar nomination predictions