Kassie (Jennifer Aniston: The Bounty Hunter) needs a kid, and neurotic best friend Wally (Jason Bateman: Couples Retreat) looks on jealously as she searches for a donor. Soon enough he’s a liquored-up mope at the conception party, where she will administer Roland’s (Patrick Wilson: The A Team) sample. But in the thick of blurry fugue he spills the intended specimen and swaps in his own to cover tracks. She leaves town soon after, and it’s not until seven years on, when Kassie returns to New York with an oddly familiar son, that Wally finally realizes his sin. So he tries to win her over even as she tries to bring the presumed dad into her life.
Sure, romantic comedies are formula wrapped in old shtick. But this one stems from a unique premise, as adapted from a short story by respected author Jeffrey Eugenides. Surely it’s got more zip than the average rom-com.
Then again, maybe zip isn’t the right word.
The premise is good for a thread of entertaining novelty, stitching together requisite touchstones of romantic comedy formula — the guy’s and girl’s eccentric best friends, the rival, the misunderstanding, the predictable reconciliation — into an otherwise original tale. Wally’s discovery of his own neuroses reflected in a six-year-old kid is amusing, and his secretly realized truth brings tension to the trip.
But the movie lacks spark. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who previously teamed for Blades of Glory, dial back their goofiness to a neutral buzz. Plot loses steam in the ambling pace, and wit is muffled under feel-good fuzzy wuzzies. Dialogue is smart enough, but what should be sharp banter plays as lazy conversation peppered with judgmentalism, more wearying and less fun than catty sniping. There’s little to no conflict for contrast, maybe a couple quibbles here and there, but no fireworks. Really? Coming off that setup? How dull. And most of the prime comic moments have been spoiled by previews.
Character, similarly, is pretty flat. Anniston is Anniston, and Bateman is Bateman, and both are Dean Martin without a Jerry Lewis. The kid is but a cute prop glancing aside for his cues, blankly reciting oddness for forced eccentricity. Supporting characters are cardboard cutouts, too poorly developed to be of any worth. Jeff Goldblum dials it in as Leonard, and Juliette Lewis is a missed opportunity to set free-spirited foil against uptight Wally. Even pretty-boy papa-wannabe Roland proves wholly unininteresting.
In the end, the filmmakers played it safe, going dry after a juicy setup. It’s a cute movie and offers a decent diversion, but it’s ultimately bland stuff.