Could have sworn I've seen this episode of Baby Mama before — like sometime in January 2007, when it was originally titled "The Baby Show" and aired on the other primetime series starring Tina Fey, 30 Rock. (Waitaminute — you say Baby Mama's a movie and not a TV show? Seriously? Coulda sworn... ) It was funny the first time around when Fey, as late-night TV exec Liz Lemon, suddenly found herself drawn to the sound of cooing and the scent of baby powder. After a poorly placed phone call to the world's worst fertility/meth-addiction doctor ("I should start by saying that I can't personally help you conceive. Something happened to me while scuba diving"), Liz wound up snatching an adorable tyke from a hairdresser — totally by accident, but still, dark, weird stuff.
Baby Mama extends the joke, then softens it, then smothers it in its crib — an unpleasant picture perhaps, but not any more disagreeable than the phrase "Produced by Lorne Michaels." Ultimately, that's all this shrugging disappointment is: a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched a good hour past its breaking point of no return.
Pairing Fey with her former "Weekend Update" co-anchor Amy Poehler, Baby Mama is little more than Tommy Boy on estrogen-replacement therapy — one more wa-a-a-a-cky SNL buddy comedy. Even Fey — who managed to stay sharp as a prison-yard shiv while toiling on Michaels' anesthetizing assembly line — has fallen victim to the boss man's familiar failings as a filmmaker, wherein he plucks the show's famous cast members and asks them only to do more of that. Michaels actually has Fey to thank for his sole solid producing credit: Mean Girls, which Fey wrote and appeared in alongside Poehler, was a knockout, and the exception to the SNL-movie rule — which is why, ultimately, Baby Mama is more disappointment than disaster. But Fey didn't write this one; first-time director Michael McCullers did — he of such duds as Thunderbirds and Undercover Brother, which only felt like a Lorne Michaels production.
Baby Mama Written and directed by Michael McCullers. Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, and Steve Martin. 96 minutes Rated PG-13
Fey's now called Kate Holbrook, and instead of an NBC TV exec, she's a VP at a Whole Foods knockoff called Round Earth. And instead of working for a slicked-back boss played by Alec Baldwin, she's working for a pony-tailed boss played by Steve Martin as a puffy hippie-dippy dope who rewards his execs with things like five minutes' worth of uninterrupted eye contact. (Martin, who says things like "I am a great man, and great men do great things," hasn't been so deadpan or dead-on in ages; he steals the show from the sidelines.)
Kate, of course, wants a baby: She visits a sperm bank, consults doctors, and plasters her apartment with Post-It notes bearing such think-positive aphorisms as "Yes! Be Fertile!" before turning to Poehler's surrogate womb. A single woman who frightens off prospective mates with too-much-information monologues over dinner, Kate is more than content to live the "alternative lifestyle" — that is, be a single mom. But as the Coen brothers put it in Raising Arizona, her insides are a rocky place where a man's seed can find no purchase — something to do with a T-shaped uterus. She's left with but one choice: a surrogacy firm run by Sigourney Weaver's regal rip-off artist Chaffee Bicknell, who's in her late 50s but still quite capable of cranking out babies — worth mentioning solely because Weaver's age becomes the source of countless jokes that give the film the stale flavor of a Comedy Central roast. (When Weaver says she's "expecting," Poehler mutters: "Expecting what — a Social Security check?" It never gets any funnier.)
Kate outsources her pregnancy for $100,000 and winds up with a "dumb white-trash" couple on her doorstep: Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler) and her husband Carl (Dax Shepard). Poehler doesn't seem sure what to do with Angie, who occasionally speaks in a hillbilly accent unless it disappears altogether and she's just Amy Poehler killing time till the next commercial break. She never commits to the part of a chain-smoking mercenary trolling for embryos to make rent, perhaps because to do so would create too wide a chasm between upper-class Kate and broke-ass Angie and render the film's main storyline — the development of a friendship by the 40-minute mark — too unbelievable.
Ultimately, the movie exists solely to reunite a winning comic duo: two women so singularly in sync that, during their stint on "Weekend Update," they genuinely laughed at each other's jokes despite their no doubt well-worn familiarity come showtime. Kate and Angie are just Tina and Amy goofing around — drunk-dancing, crooning along to video-game karaoke, and, once more, finishing each other's sentences. I'd rather watch MILF Island.
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