May 1, 2008

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Baby Mama (PG-13)
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler try to make a baby in Baby Mama, a surprisingly weak comedy that had me wishing Poehler and Fey had just thrown out the script and spent the time riffing on parenthood.

If you’ve seen the trailer to Baby Mama, you’ve seen the movie in its best and most hilarious light — all the best moments, all the funny lines are there: Kate (Fey) explaining to a man at the beginning of a first date her struggle to conceive a baby, Kate learning that her only option for a biological child might be use of a surrogate, Kate meeting Angie (Poehler), the woman who agrees to let Kate put her baby inside her. Angie and common-law husband Carl (Dax Shepard) decide to try the surrogacy gig out to make money but soon Angie and Carl break up and Angie winds up living with Kate — baby mama drama, as the door man Oscar (Romany Malco) explains. Uptight, uptown Kate must learn to live with immature Angie, a good preparation for raising a child and a good shakeup of the ordered, risk-free life that led what the movie sees as her plight as a 37-year-old single woman with a great career but a hole in her life she wishes to fill with a family of her own. Serving as Kate’s absolutely unnecessary love interest, Rob (Greg Kinnear) seems to be shipped in from a different romantic comedy, one tied up in the uninteresting subplot about Kate’s Whole Foods-ish company gentrifying a block in Rob’s pre-corporate-development neighborhood. Supporting roles by Sigourney Weaver, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor and Steve Martin represent a just-throw-everything-at-it approach to storytelling by adding not terribly organic comic relief as a creepy surrogate agency executive, down-to-earth mom, boozey WASP and Kate’s hippie boss, respectively.

For all the weak sitcomery Baby Mama piles on its script, it’s at its very best when it leaves Fey and Poehler alone together. If you saw Fey’s “bitch is the new black” commentary on Saturday Night Live a few months ago, you might remember that one of the best parts of it was when Fey, monologueing about Hillary Clinton, said that, yes, Clinton is a bitch and so is she (Fey) and “so is this one,” motioning to Amy Poehler, who answered “yeah, deal with it.” The chumminess of that moment — with the nerdy Fey and the slightly more street Poehler — was perfect and is an example of what made them so great as co-anchors and had me so excited to see this movie. Poehler and Fey have spot-on chemistry. Both are smart and funny, both can exaggerate their quirks to create characters who feel genuine but who you can empathize with even while they are being outrageous. Baby Mama gave the ladies a few moments to capitalize on this great comic partnership — too few, really. I’ve heard media people (mostly women people) hoping that Fey and Poehler would be the female answer to Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen. I still believe they could be that but Baby Mama, sadly, is no Knocked Up.

And I’ve decided to blame Michael McCullers. The writer-director of Baby Mama has to his credit Saturday Night Live, one of the Austin Powers movies and Thunderbirds. This is not the kind of résumé that can carry the water of the woman behind 30 Rock.

For all that it’s a disappointment and for all that you’ve seen all its funniest bits (thanks, trailers!) a dozen times already, Baby Mama isn’t a completely skippable movie. Just for the few scenes where Fey and Poehler get to strut their stuff (including a couple of particularly excellent singing and dancing scenes), Baby Mama is worth at least the price of a matinee ticket. B-

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a drug reference. Written and directed by Michael McCullers, Baby Mama is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.