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Director botches ‘Baby Mama’ delivery

Cassie Belek | Monday, April 28, 2008

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are two women at the top of their comedy game. After serving as head writer for “Saturday Night Live,” writing “Mean Girls” and creating, writing, producing and starring in her own sitcom on NBC, “30 Rock,” Fey has gone farther than most women in comedy today. Meanwhile, Poehler has become the MVP of “Saturday Night Live” while co-anchoring “Weekend Update” and adding to her ever-expanding film and television resume.

The problem with being at the top is that raised expectations make it so much easier to fall. Fey and Poehler’s “Baby Mama,” does not fail completely, but it doesn’t live up to the quality of their other work either.

“Baby Mama” follows 37-year-old Kate Holbrook (Fey), a successful executive for a health food store chain who longs for a baby before it is too late for her to have one. Kate decides to go the route of artificial insemination through an anonymous sperm donor, but her fertility specialist (John Hodgman) doesn’t like her uterus. In other words, her “junk” has gone bad, forcing her to use a surrogate, who comes in the form of South Philly working girl Angie Ostrowiski (Poehler). When Angie breaks up with her boyfriend, Carl (Dax Shepard), she moves in with Kate, turning Fey and Poehler into the new “odd couple.”

There is no denying that Fey and Poehler are hilarious together. The two have known each other for 15 years and they have developed a chemistry that is as apparent in talk show interviews as it is in “Baby Mama.” The movie is at its best when the pair is allowed to have fun on screen, not only with each other but with the script as well. “Baby Mama” could use a little more improv, like in the scene of Kate and Angie singing along to Karaoke Revolution.

Most of the blame in the movie lies with writer and director Michael McCullers. Although “Baby Mama” sounds like a movie Fey would have written, it was actually written by the man who co-wrote the “Austin Powers” trilogy. McCullers is clearly better at writing than directing. His script is funny, even if it lacks proper character development for Kate. We never dig deep enough into her motivations for wanting a child. And once we see her dating smoothie maker Rob (Greg Kinnear), she seems so normal, confident and unflawed that we can’t understand why her past relationships failed, leaving her single today.

“Baby Mama” is McCullers’ directorial debut, and it quickly becomes clear that with faster pacing (and a better editor), he could have made a better and funnier film. But “Baby Mama” drags, particularly in the beginning, and the humor doesn’t come as sharply and quickly as Fey and Poehler are capable of.

But even with all its flaws, “Baby Mama” still has its charms. As Kate’s boss, Steve Martin steals scene after scene. His haircut alone is a visual gag that makes us laugh as soon as he appears on screen. “SNL” fans will get a treat with cameos from cast members Will Forte and Fred Armisen (watch out for Forte’s killer mustache). The friendship between doorman Oscar (Romany Malco) and baby mama Angie is sweet (yet unexplored), and Dax Shepard even has his moments to shine as Angie’s white trash boyfriend.

In the end, “Baby Mama” is worth seeing for its truly hilarious moments. But it’s unfortunate that poor directing gets in the way of Fey and Poehler producing comedy gold. The two do not fail as actresses or comedians; they only fail in their choice of project.

Contact Cassie Belek at cbelek@nd.edu