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Baby Mama

Director: Michael McCullers
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinear, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver

Tina Fey headlines an uneven but mostly enjoyable comedy with Baby Mama. Fey is likable everywoman, the normal, if awkward, center of a chaotic universe. That’s pretty much her gig on “30 Rock,” it was her personality on the “Saturday Night Live” news segments (where Baby Mama costar Amy Poehler was often her zanier co-anchor), and here she’s a sympathetic corporate executive trying to have a baby by surrogacy because she’s infertile. The issues of choosing single motherhood are not really dealt with, but it seems understandable to go it alone, since Fey is surrounded by people doing schtick. In addition to Poehler’s broad white-trash surrogate broad, there’s Steve Martin as the self-involved hippie leftover who runs Fey’s company (a Whole Foods standin) and Sigourney Weaver as the smug, self-satisfied, and pregnant-at-much-too-old-an-age operator of the surrogacy service that connects Fey and Poehler.

The movie chugs along at a reasonable pace, taking shots at yuppies, new-age pretentions, a woman’s compulsion to have children, white-trash idiots, et cetera, and does pretty well at it until the plot twists become too tangled a mess to ever sort out well. Writer-director Michael McCullers makes his directorial debut (and brings co-writer credits from both Austin Powers sequels) but demonstrates a tin ear for storytelling in the last act, when one character actually stands up and makes a public declaration of Everything She Has Learned in the Movie So Far, complete with swelling music underneath, and all plot logic is sold out to give us an unambiguously happy ending. For contrast, compare this slicker studio product to a [sigh]quirky[/sigh] indie project like Juno, also about pregnancy, for an example of how to do richer character work, more believable plotting and an ending that satisfies without sickening.

There is, of course, a love subplot here, provided by Greg Kinnear. He does solid work, and his character is more real than the comedy types usually in Fey’s background here. It’s not until the film derails with that “Everything I Learned” testimonial that we see how carelessly this bunch of jokes and character moments has been constructed. But with the endless charm of Tina Fey (and despite some moments overplaying her character’s dorkiness), the movie might’ve been worth four stars until that last act, when stupid plotting robbed it of at least a star. Three stars is probably about right, rounding up for Fey’s presence. If you like Fey or drawn to the subject matter, this is worth seeing. Otherwise, like most studio comedies, you won’t lose a thing by waiting for the DVD.

Fey has better movies in her, but I think that, as with Mean Girls, she’s going to have to write them herself.