Friday, April 25, 2008

Babies in one movie, sex in another


The night that "Baby Mama" screened in Denver, I was torn. Did I want to see a Tina Fey comedy about a professional woman who longs to be a mother or did I want to stay home and immerse myself in talking-head blah, blah and more blah as returns from the Pennsylvania primary rolled in? I don't know which prospect I found more tiresome -- talking-head blah, blah and more blah or one more promising comedy that doesn't really work. I opted for "Baby Mama,'' figuring that the blah, blah and more blah would still be blahing up the airways when I returned home. Between "Baby Mama" and the talking heads, I could ensure myself an all-blah evening.

As it turns out, I was right. There's a definite blah quality to "Baby Mama," although the movie does offer some laughs. Siobhan Fallon Hogan is quite funny as a speech-challenged birthing coach who sounds a bit like Elmer Fudd. I occasionally laughed (and so did the guy next to me) at the unashamedly crude character played by Dax Shepard. He's the boyfriend of Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a white-trash woman who agrees to be a surrogate mother for Fey's Kate Holbrook. Steve Martin has some nice moments in another of the movie's small roles. He portrays Barry, a ponytail wearing New Age executive who owns the organic food company at which Kate has carved out a fast-track career. What a guy: When he's happy with Kate, he rewards her with five straight minutes of eye contact.

So what's up with the blah description? Well, the movie is awfully predictable, its ending is pat, flat and unbelievable and there's too much down time between chuckles. Beyond that, a budding romance between Fey's character and a lawyer turned juice-store owner (Greg Kinnear) doesn't ignite many sparks.

Oh well, it's probably not worth a whole lot of head scratching when it comes to figuring out why a comedy is mildly amusing instead of fall-down funny. I guess I'm grateful that I didn't come away hating "Baby Mama," which is saying something for a film that spends a lot of time rehashing odd-couple cliches.

That happens because Poehler's Angie breaks up with her boyfriend, and moves in with Kate, who encourages her to mend her fast-food ways for the sake of the baby that Angie's carrying. Kate's uptight and fastidious; Angie's the polar opposite, a small riot in the form of a woman. Director Michael McCullers, who also wrote the script, pulls a few surprises out of an otherwise familiar hat, and the whole business winds up in that grey area between see it now or wait until the DVD. I guess if you loved Fey and Poehler on SNL, you may be tempted toward the now option. Me? I'd wait.

As for my evening? An unexpected synchronicity emerged. it turns out, "Baby Mama" is set in Philadelphia, so it made a nice prelude to the rest of my evening. I returned home and watched the talking heads bleat, pontificate and analyze and came away wishing that Fey and Poehler -- formerly of SNL's Weekend Update -- had traded places with Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. OK, maybe just Chris Matthews.


When you hear that "Deception," a new thriller starring Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams, is about sex clubs, you may find yourself mildly curious. Come on. Admit it. At minimum, you probably want to know how such clubs work. I can't read the filmmakers' minds, but to me it seemed as if "Deception" had been designed to tweak prurient interest and hook audiences into an otherwise rote thriller.

Here's how it works: "Deception" immerses McGregor (a downtrodden accountant) into a world where he can have anonymous sex with beautiful women. He's turned on, and we're asked to be voyeurs.

McGregor's character is introduced to sex clubs because of a supposed mistake: He accidentally (wink! wink!) ends up with the cell phone of a hotshot lawyer (Jackman) with a killer smile and a knowing, insider's approach to life. You should already have figured out that Jackman's character is using sex to pull McGregor's character into a larcenous scheme. We see right through the movie's ploys, and outguess it at nearly every turn. So when a blonde Williams shows up, we know that McGregor's character will fall for her, that he'll want more than a one-night fling.

Maybe because the movie is so predictable for so long, screenwriter Mark Bomback ("Live Free or Die Hard") creates a third act in which the plot pivots and dodges as it desperately tries to find ways to surprise us. By this time, though, it's not easy to care what happens.

"Deception" begins by introducing us to a professional world in which men and women are so busy being successful that they have no time for relationships. The sex clubs enable them to satisfy their sexual urges without the inconvenience of having to deal with such trivial matters as dinner and a movie. The sex clubs, you see, cut directly to the chase. That means members don't have to sit through overly stylized thrillers like "Deception" in order to achieve their libidinous goals. Lucky them.

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