April 23 2010 12:00 AM

00030139_1.jpgThink back to the glory days of the early ‘00s. Jennifer
Lopez was everywhere you turned: on the big screen with her latest film, on the
radio with her latest club hit, in the cosmetics counters with her latest
fragrance, and — ah, yes — in the tabloids with her latest escapades. Remember
when she traveled to England and supposedly demanded to have more security than
Queen Elizabeth? How about when Matt Damon allegedly warned buddy Ben Affleck
not to marry her because J.Lo was nothing more than a “serial bride”? Or the
stories about how she held up a press junket for hours because she broke a nail
on the way to an interview and she had to get an emergency manicure?

Whether she was the biggest star in the world or not, Lopez
was unarguably a media phenomenon — at least until the colossal flop of “Gigli”
and her break-up with Affleck tarnished her luster. It’s been three years since
she last starred in a film (the box office bust “El Cantante,” with husband
Marc Anthony) and a lot longer than that since the Star and the National
Enquirer were scrutinizing her every move and every utterance.

Sounds like Comeback Time. But instead of choosing a project
that might showcase her dramatic skills (and, with all the attention paid to
her personal life, it’s easy to forget Lopez can be a vibrant actress) Lopez
has opted instead for “The Back-Up Plan,” a puffball of a comedy that makes
“Maid in Manhattan” and “Monster-in-Law” seem like meticulously crafted
masterpieces by comparison. Put it this way: If someone had presented Lopez
with a pile of 500 rejected screenplays and told her to reach in and pull out
one at random, the odds are excellent it would have been superior to this
insipid, all but unendurable fiasco. About the only service “Back-Up” does for
its star is to show that she’s still luminous and limber at age 40, after
giving birth to twins; beyond that, it does her no favors whatsoever.

Impeccably groomed and firm of figure, Lopez looks
astonishing throughout. Unfortunately, Kate Angelo’s witless, brain-numbing screenplay
shoehorns the star into one idiotic situation after another and forces her to
spit out dialogue so wretched it belongs in a diaper, not on the pages of a

Lopez plays Zoe, the glamorpuss owner of a Manhattan pet
store in which her employees fawn over her and a crippled puppy is always on
hand to supply kooky canine reaction shots to the supposedly zany antics that
go on. Traumatized by the ticking of her biological clock and the absence of
any potential boyfriends, Zoe decides artificial insemination is her best
option. As fate would have it, minutes after leaving the sperm bank, Zoe
literally bumps up against Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), who has “baby daddy” written
all over him. He’s a dairy farmer who makes and sells goat cheese at a swanky farmers’
market, a job that enables him to say provocative things like “I’ll give you a
taste of my cheese” with a straight face.

Zoe eventually tastes many things Stan has to offer, but
when she tells him she’s in the family way, the revelation leaves a bad taste
in his mouth. But instead of merely ending the relationship, Stan behaves like
a capricious schoolgirl, alternately throwing tantrums and sweet-talking Zoe.
She wants a baby and he acts like a baby, so the movie assumes they must be a
perfect match.

More make-ups and misunderstandings follow, while Angelo and
director Alan Poul shamelessly pile on every single overworked, unfunny
stereotype they can get their grubby hands on. Tattooed, snarling lesbian
single moms, wacky obstetricians who say “vagina” a little too often, blowsy
best friends, salty-tongued senior citizens, and New Age loonies surround Zoe
and Stan, although humor doesn’t come anywhere in their vicinity. About the
only thing that’s even smirk-worthy is Zoe’s rumination about the toll pregnancy
has taken on her physique: “I miss my old ass,” she wails in a J.Lo in-joke.
“It was like this ass, but waaaay hotter!”

Lopez is often a laugh riot on talk shows and in interviews,
but her comedic gifts are conspicuously absent here. So is any discernible
trace of chemistry with O’Loughlin, whose performance amounts to little more
than staring appreciatively at Lopez and taking off his shirt at appropriate
intervals. One of the movie’s comic highlights involves Stan being accused of
being a potential pedophile by an over-protective parent (Anthony Anderson); no
wonder O’Loughlin frequently looks and sounds terribly uncomfortable.

Soon after that awkward encounter, Stan and his accuser
discuss the pros and cons of fatherhood. “It’s awful, awful, awful, awful,” the
downtrodden daddy says. “And then something wonderful happens.” “The Back-Up
Plan” is exactly the same way — except for the “wonderful” part.