Latest romantic comedy shows the poor pedigree of inbreeding

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) owns a boutique pet shop in what looks like one of the pricier blocks of midtown Manhattan. Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) runs a goat cheese stand in a farmers’ market nearby. It seems that we are to think of them as underdogs though their combined net worth would be in the eight-digit range and they are young and very very pretty.

The two meet in a taxi that they both claim while she’s on her way out of an extremely efficient in vitro clinic. Too bad then that she’s given up on men in that particularly affected way of the romantic comedy heroine. She might just have to eat some of her words because it turns out that no matter how hard she fights it Stan is made for her and they are meant to be together — together for no particular reason until he says exactly one wrong thing and then we have our Third Act crisis.

Now let’s play a game of reverse mad libs. How many details would you have to change to turn the just-described movie The Back-Up Plan into last year’s The Ugly Truth or Lopez’s own The Wedding Planner ? O’Loughlin is basically what would have happened to Hugh Jackman if he had attended the Joey Tribbiani school of acting (suggested mantra: eyebrows abs gravel throat…) and Lopez looks like a CGI version of herself. On the technical and visual side there is little to report.

The Back-Up Plan plays like one of the glossier lighter varieties of cable series crossbred with a mid-decade sitcom. Director Alan Poul and writer Kate Angelo have backgrounds in several HBO series and Will & Grace respectively so it’s not hard to figure out where they’re coming from.

Even a casual observer should have noticed by now that things have changed since the modern rom com era was heralded by the likes of When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman . What has happened is a rather worrisome level of inbreeding. In the 20 years since the formula was developed we’ve seen it consistently mutate and devolve. The genre’s already perilous internal logic is short-circuiting with dramatic but empty results as the moral lessons bewilder and the styling pacing and character development lose all grip on reality. What we’re left with is less of a fantasy of whirlwind romance more of the empty shell of wish fulfilment.