Expecting more

"Baby Mama," starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, is a crowd-pleasing comedy, but falls well short of
Single businesswoman Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey), left, attends Lamaze with her surrogate, working girl Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), in the film "Baby Mama."
Single businesswoman Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey), left, attends Lamaze with her surrogate, working girl Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), in the film "Baby Mama."

Kate Holbrook is 37 and single. Kate Holbrook, vice president of a Philadelphia health food chain, has decided she wants a baby.

Off she goes to meet Chaffee Bicknell, owner of a surrogacy center, who sets her up with the woman designated to carry Kate’s baby. She is Angie Ostrowski, a perky opportunist who likes booze, tobacco and chugs Red Bull to keep her going. Later in Michael McCullers’ “Baby Mama,” Kate will call Angie “white trash.”

It’s one of the few potentially serious moments in what amounts to a crowd-pleasing comedy with Tina Fey as Kate, Amy Poehler as Angie, Sigourney Weaver as Chaffee and Steve Martin as the touchy-feely guru who plays Kate’s boss. Enter also Dax Shepard as Angie’s yahoo boyfriend, Romany Malco as the doorman-confidant and Greg Kinnear as the nice guy Kate will fall for.

“Baby Mama” falls somewhere between an elongated sitcom and the classic, screwball comedy it is clearly trying to imitate. Relying on one-liners and visual gags, it can be laugh-out-loud funny, cheerful and friendly. Though the comedy holds our interest, it is not clever or sophisticated. That is, it is humorous but not especially sharp or witty. If we hold McCullers and his movie to the standards set by Frank Capra, Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder, you can make an easy case that “Baby Mama” is as lazy as it is pleasant.

’Baby Mama’

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Michael McCullers

STARRING Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor, Steve Martin and Sigourney Weaver

RATED PG-13

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

Still, despite its obvious shortcomings, this contemporary comedy has enough going for it. Tina Fey is good and believable as the straight lead — the hard-working, serious-minded executive who needs a bit more fun in her life. Fun, as in romance, motherhood and letting loose.

You can admire her for leaving the comic antics to Amy Poehler, who has some hilarious moments as Angie. Witness her peeing in the sink or registering profane indignation when she is wheeled into a hospital. She can go haywire one moment and register vulnerability the next. Poehler has a lot to offer, and even when you are laughing hardest, you sense that the movie is just tapping her talent as a versatile movie comedienne.

Martin has a moment or two as the egotistical boss, but like Kinnear, he is placed into the film as an obligatory character. If both are adequate, their roles are underdeveloped, especially that of Kinnear. One scene with him in a courtroom is ridiculously inept. Once more, the writing too often reflects a sitcom intelligence rather than that of a smart, energetic approach we associate with a sophisticated, full-length comedy.

I understand that for someone looking for an entertaining night out at the movies, these reservations are mere quibbles. To those objections, I surrender. To be perfectly clear, you can have fun watching “Baby Mama,” which has more to offer than many other recent comedies. Heck, I had some fun. The rub is that with the efforts of Fey and Poehler, “Baby Mama” deserves to be better.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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