MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Back-Up Plan, The Losers and Oceans …

The Back-up Plan (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Alan Poul, 2010

If you don’t have a back-up plan when you wander into The Back-up Plan, the new Jennifer Lopez picture, you may regret it — because you’ll be condemned to watch this silly-ass movie, with no relief in sight. Unless you’re dippy about Jen Lopez, you‘ll suffer for it, trapped in yet another glossy, dopey, preachy, cliché-strangled Hollywood wanna-be romantic comedy, in which a spectacularly gorgeous couple — Lopez as stunner yuppie Zoe and Australian leading man Alex O’Loughlin as studly farmer/cheese maker Stan — behave like ninnies for a couple of hours, before happiness finally blooms.

In The Backup Plan, Jennifer Lopez’s Zoe starts out as fed up with men and dating, and so desperate for motherhood, that she decides — for reasons that certainly baffled me — to be artificially inseminated. This is a woman who has trouble with her date life? Anyway, in the first of many dubious plot twists, the newly preggers Zoe immediately meets the man of her dreams, cheese maker Stan.

Smitten, Zoe hides her pregnancy, for a while at least, and the two woo each other to a fare-thee-well, donning chic or sexy wardrobes, uttering earthy but chic thoughts, leaping into bed and embracing huge pillows, roaming around chi-chi Manhattan nibbling chic goodies (and cheese), setting moonlit restaurant tables amusingly on fire, trading quips with wisecracking buddies (including Michaela Watkins as Mona, a sort of Jen-X Rhoda), and learning all the valuable life lessons any Manhattan yuppie worth her sea salt or any Aussie leading man needs to know.

Those crucial subjects include maintaining relationships despite lots of banal dialogue, surviving pregnancy despite Robert Klein as your doctor, creative doggie care and successful cheese-creation.

I got no pleasure from any of this, but be forewarned. If you skip Back-up, you’ll miss a lot.

You’ll miss the cute dogs, the cute goat farm, the cute single motherhood classes, and the cute old folks’ trysts with the touching romance between Zoe’s nana Linda Lavin and Nana’s beau of two decades Tom Bosley (who looks as if the movie were putting him to sleep). You’ll also be deprived of the smashing meet-cute boy-meets girl scene where both Zoe and Stan grab the same cab and spat charmingly over who gets it, as well as the big cute pillow that gets tossed in a dumpster, the cute arguments and reconciliations, and the massive infusion of cuteness whenever Stan wanders into the park and bumps into the chatty dad played by Anthony Anderson, who plops down on a bench beside him, dispensing pearls of daddyhood.

You‘ll miss Stan’s farm, which he seem to be operating — complete with cheese making and packing operations — all by himself. And you‘ll miss the scene where he sees sexy Zoe and smashes his tractor, a moment of rustic humor that might rival The Egg and I, if Ma and Pa Kettle were around.

And what about the aforementioned Doctor Klein, as the wry Doctor Harris who keeps dispensing pearls of pregnancy wit and wisecrackery. The Doc steals the movie with his (and the script’s) most memorable line, “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!“ As with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and all its “Mads,” I’m not sure I got all of Dr. Harris’s “Vaginas” in there. But you get the drift.

And, last but not least, you’ll miss the memorable scene where J-Lo actually starts talking about her ass, reckoning that it used to be “way hotter.” (Not from where I sit.) Now, how desperate do filmmakers have to be to start insisting that Ms. Lopez’s famous posterior — insured, as I seem to remember (Against cellulite? Or acts of God?) by no less than Lloyd‘s of London — to be exploited in this manner? And there’s more rear end fixation. In scene after scene, Zoe walks away from the camera, reveling in her own derriere; I imagine this was intended either to illustrate the theme of running away from life, or to show that Zoe was just kidding about that “way hotter“ crack.

Derriere! Derriere! Derriere! I suppose we should be grateful no one came up with even more fanny-wit, or with Farrelly-level gags about cutting the cheese. I‘m sarcastic, of course. The Back-up Plan is something that should be missed. It’s yet another contemporary Hollywood romantic comedy so bereft of wit and grace, so lost in the tropes of TV, that it often seems to be its own trailer or summer rerun. Concocted by TV writer Kate Angelo and TV director Alan Poul (Six Feet Under), it suggests a boob tube cubed. Jen’s show has everything but a laugh track, and, at my screening, it needed one.

To be brutally frank, this is a movie that once again disgraces the great tradition of the Hollywood Romantic Comedy: of Tracy and Hepburn, of Cary Grant and anybody, of Carole Lombard, of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, of Preston Sturges, Ben Hecht, Billy Wilder, Leo McCarey, Frank Capra, Woody Allen and Paul Mazursky and, more recently of Alexander Payne — a movie sinking to such, um, slick blandness that it almost makes Jason Reitman look like Howard Hawks, Nancy Meyers look like George Cukor and Kevin Smith look like Lubitsch.

Bosom! Bosom! Bosom! Bosom!

Penis! Penis! Penis!

I’m afraid I can only recommend this movie to fans so madly infatuated with Jennifer Lopez that they would cheerfully follow her into Hell. Actually, J-Lo looks fine here, even when she’s walking toward us — but though she projects some sweetness, it’s a waste of honey. As for O’Loughlin, who looks something like a squeezed Matthew McConaughey, and acts as if he’d rather be off somewhere making cheese (or cutting it), this new Aussie’s love scenes have all the sparkle and fizz of vintage Kool-Aid. Or artificial insemination. To top it off, the blooper reel is a snore.

Look, I guess when you come right down to it, I don’t think it’s possible to make a good or appealing romantic comedy about Jennifer Lopez being artificially inseminated. It’s a lost cause as soon as Doc Klein works his magic and goes vagina-happy. Were the filmmakers just too gutless to take the obvious route of giving Zoe a baby by another, unworthy guy? Someone who, as in “His Girl Friday,” maybe looks like that actor Ralph Bellamy? Or Jason Patric? (See below.)

It’s actually not impossible to wring laughs out of this semi-taboo subject. The great Jean Renoir — who once referred to Twentieth Century Fox as Eighteenth Century Fox — made a charming comedy about artificial insemination in 1959, the buoyant Picnic on the Grass, a film that was a joy to watch. But Renoir had sense enough to put his lovers in the beautiful impressionistic countryside, and not to haul us all over Manhattan and into the doctor’s office, and have Robert Klein declaim “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!”

A line, I assure you, that would have never have crossed Billy Wilder’s lips. At least not in a movie.


The Losers (Two Stars)
U.S.; Sylvain White, 2010

Bam! Crash! Pow! Penis! Here we have another comic book movie, about five C. I. A. ops who get double-crossed in Bolivia by their rat of a boss, a maniac who blows up a helicopter and kills 25 cute kids before their horrified eyes. Ostracized but enraged, the Losers, now angry outcasts, chase this fiend all the way from Bolivia through Texas and L. A. to Miami — where all hell breaks loose. Actually hell has been breaking loose everywhere else too.

The fearsome fivesome are played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan as lead honcho Clay, Idris Elba as Roque the troublemaker, Chris Evans as Jensen the jock, Columbus Short as Pooch the driver, and Oscar Jaenada as Cougar the sniper — and they’re assisted by svelte and deadly (and unblue) femme fatale Aisha (Zoe Saldana), the self-professed ear collector. Aisha is some hot mama. She picks up Clay in a bar, goes back to his room and then beats the shit out of him and sets the room on fire.

Wooo! Obviously this is no woman to say “no” to. (Or “yes” either.) And pretty soon Aisha has all the gang — including grousing malcontent Roque — on the trail of their duplicitous boss Max the asshole (Jason Patric, the best thing in the movie). Max is so crazy he kills people just for laughs, including the girl who carries his umbrella on the beach. And he‘s gotten his hands on some honest-to-God weapons of mass destruction, which makes him even more dangerous. What if Mad Max takes a dislike to some poor defenseless little city like Brussels or Dubuque?

I‘m not going to tell you anything more, but don’t worry. No matter how hard you try, you can’t possibly not guess what happens.


Except perhaps when Max gets his watch stolen on the bus by the same kind of gangbangers who tormented Our Man Kick-Ass.


Losers is shot like a comic book and it has lots of explosions. Sylvain White directed from Peter Berg’s and James Vanderbilt’s script, and one of the producers was Joel Silver – making what seems to be a parody of a Joel Silver movie.

As for White himself, he seems to be another disciple of Michael Bay, and, just as Bay is rumored to be the illegitimate son of John Frankenheimer, Sylvain is sometimes rumored to be the son of the legendary Boston Celtic basketball guard Jo Jo White, one of the heroes in what most people (me included) think was the greatest basketball game of all time, 1976’s NBA championship playoff Game Number Five between the Celtics and the Phoenix Suns.

What a game! What shots! What an overtime! What a finish! White! Westphal! Havlicek! Silas! Heard and Perry! I guarantee that if you find a DVD copy of that Celtics-Suns masterpiece, you‘ll have a better time than you will watching The Losers, and any other two Joel Silver movies, not counting the Lethal Weapons. Unless, of course, you’re so madly infatuated with Zoe Saldana and her fearsome fivesome, that you‘d follow them all into Hell.


Oceans (Four Stars)
France-U.S.; Jacques Perrin/Jacques Cluzaud, 2009

For Earth Day, a real gem. Made by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, the two French directors of the magnificent birds-in-flight documentary Winged Migration, here’s an equally magnificent doc about the ocean and its denizens. Fantastic music. Incredible cinematography. Good narration, by Perrin in the French original, and by a non-Bonded Pierce Brosnan in this Disneynature version.

Disneynature’s 2009 Earth, fashioned from the Alastair Fothergill-David Attenborough masterpiece Planet Earth, was a real movie event last year, though I prefer the original. And this is easily the best picture I‘ve seen all this year — the kind of thing movies can do better than any other art form. If you skip it and go to see either The Back-up Plan or The Losers instead, you ought to have your head examined. And eaten (or humped) by a hump-backed whale.

– Michael Wilmington
April 22, 2010

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon