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Carmen Diaz in a scene from "What to Expect When You're Expecting."

Melissa Moseley/AP Photo/Lionsgate

2 out of 4 stars


The popular self-help book adaptation has emerged as a viable romcom subgenre. But while the books "inspiring" this year's fare are aimed mainly at women, the movies are all about the boys.

Last month, Think Like a Man, an ensemble comedy inspired by Steve Harvey's relationship bestseller and revolving around basketball-playing buddies, spent two weeks at No. 1 before The Avengers arrived.

What to Expect When You're Expecting, inspired by Heidi Murkoff's multimillion-selling bible for expectant parents, lacks the superpower to knock The Avengers from the top spot. But the slick, Atlanta-set, star-studded movie will certainly compete with Think Like a Man for the short-attention-span crowd – it's a sitcom-y ensemble film (complete with product placement) that feels like you're flipping around the TV dial.

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From the advance promo, you might assume What to Expect is a Chris Rock comedy. He may play a minor one-note character, but when Rock and his "Dudes Group" finally strut on screen – wrapped in baby carriers and pushing strollers in slow motion like an elite squad on a mission – the party's started. They are intended to function as a comic Greek chorus, and their collective wisdom becomes the movie's unexpected emotional centre. You start wishing the Dudes Group had more screen time or even its own movie. Maybe next year.

Brit Kirk Jones ( Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee) competently directs the traffic, but the tone is all over the map. The five expectant couples are given almost equal weight, so watching is more about keeping track than caring about what happens. And without wiggle room to build up comic situations, the comedy is mostly contrived slapstick.

Screenwriters Shauna Cross (now adapting the ballyhooed Go the F*ck to Sleep) and Heather Hach (Disney's Freaky Friday remake) give a showbiz sheen to pat representative characters. In the opening scene, Jules (Cameron Diaz), a 40-ish fitness guru and host of a weight-loss reality show, throws up into a trophy cup on national TV after winning Celebrity Dance Factor with partner Evan (Matthew Morrison). It's the most memorable scene in their story. Oh, and there's their ongoing debate about circumcision– one of several topics woven into the film to reflect the book's content.

Jennifer Lopez does not convince as a struggling photographer hoping the bohemian household she keeps with husband Alex (Brazilian heartthrob Rodrigo Santoro) will be approved by the adoption agency. When they discover a child is ready for pickup in Ethiopia in a few months' time, Alex hangs out with Rock's Dudes Group to warm his cold feet.

Elizabeth Banks is a standout as Wendy, the unshakeably cheery owner of a breastfeeding boutique, whose pregnancy does not achieve quite the "glow" she expected. Her unhinged rant about her third-trimester discomfort in front of a surprised audience of pregnant moms is funny and rings true.

Wendy's milquetoast husband Gary (Ben Falcone) is the movie's designated humiliation target. His father (Dennis Quaid), a back-slapping super-competitive former NASCAR champ, trumps his son's news by announcing that he and his younger, thinner, blonder trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker) are also expecting. Later on, a stressed-out Gary, a former weight-loss-show contestant, is reprimanded by Jules on camera in front of a food truck. Poor guy.

Which brings us to Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford, as competing twentysomething foodtruck chefs who trade flirtatious jabs. The dreamy, late-night vibe of their story is enchanting, and the performances are appealing, but they seem to belong to a different movie.

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With instant brand recognition, a winning cast, familiar TV elements and an easy-to-follow nine-month structure, What to Expect When You're Expecting is engineered to deliver something for everyone. Just don't expect a bundle of joy.

What to Expect When You're Expecting

  • Directed by Kirk Jones
  • Written by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach
  • Starring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Brooklyn Decker, Chace Crawford, Ben Falcone, Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Dennis Quaid and Chris Rock
  • Classification: 14A

Special to The Globe and Mail

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