‘What to Expect’ Review: All the Appeal of Pickles and Ice Cream

There’s an OK drama buried within the hacky sitcom clichés of this idiotic, all-star comedy that’s as funny as post-partum depression

It’s said that the only reason women are capable of giving birth more than once is that they forget about the pains of labor once it’s all over. Here’s hoping that audiences unfortunate enough to see “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” undergo a similar bout of amnesia.

This insipid comedy uses the best-selling pregnancy guide as a jumping-off point for multiple overlapping storylines, almost all of them banal, trite and hackneyed. Strangely enough, the only memorable moments of this mess come when things get serious, despite the track record of director Kirk Jones, who demonstrated most recently with “Everything’s Fine” that he’s not particularly good with all-star ensembles or with sentimentality.

Among the threads of this film are a baby-boutique owner (Elizabeth Banks) finally becoming pregnant at the same time as her husband’s (Ben Falcone) younger stepmother (Brooklyn Decker); a young food-truck chef (Anna Kendrick) getting one in the oven after a one-night stand with a culinary rival (Chace Crawford); a TV weight-loss guru (Cameron Diaz) and her partner (Matthew Morrison) from a celebrity dance competition show try to figure out how to fit a baby into their career-driven lives; and a married couple (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) face the possibility of adoption.

Cue the gags about water breaking, hemorrhoids, screaming for epidurals and just about every other cliché imaginable. There are lots of “I thought you wanted this baby too!” arguments and daddy conflicts (Falcone’s character has spent his life in competition with his NASCAR-racing daddy, played by Dennis Quaid) and predictable jokes about bladder control and weight gain.

What you won’t find are any same-sex couples conceiving — even though baby fever in the gay and lesbian community seems like it’s at an all-time high — or any people of color going into the delivery room (all the ethnic minorities here either have kids already or can’t give birth to their own) or any jokes that feel fresher than 1985.

When Lopez and Santoro have real conversations about adoption, or when one of the characters suddenly miscarries, “What to Expect” actually achieves a certain poignancy, suggesting that this enterprise might have worked better as a drama with occasional laughs than as a comedy with a few tear-jerking moments.

The cast is uniformly fine, although you can practically feel them chafing against the moronic things they’re called upon to do and say. And after the dreadful “Friends with Kids,” this is the second movie of 2012 that suggests there might be a “Bridesmaids” curse. (Falcone, Rebel Wilson and Wendi McClendon-Covey are all alums from last summer’s hit.)

In a year when women’s reproductive freedoms are constantly in the political crosshairs, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” feels like just another affront to anyone who owns and operates a uterus.

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