'What to Expect When You're Expecting' (PG-13)

Remember when advice books stayed on the shelves where they belonged? Me neither. The latest in what seems to be a trend to bring them to the screen, What to Expect When You’re Expecting used to be a popular guide for expectant mothers. Now, instead of explaining the month-by-month changes in fetal development and discussing the benefits of breastfeeding, it’s an excuse to throw together a bunch of attractive actors, tie their shallowly defined characters to a single concept — and, with any luck, watch the money roll in.

The plan worked for Think Like a Man, which ruled the box office until The Avengers assembled, so What to Expect When You’re Expecting stands a chance of luring some filmgoers, presumably female ones. Trouble is, the movie isn’t as funny as Think Like a Man, which benefited by prowling around the topics of sex and romance; it never had to get too serious. It also had a breakout performance from Kevin Hart as a screaming lunatic on the verge of divorce. What to Expect has no standout character who’s consistently funny, and it must operate within the confines of a “kids are the most important thing in our lives” mentality, which is more tiresome ground, comedically speaking. On the bright side, it gets to show cute babies at the end.

The film follows the adventures-in-expecting of several couples, all but one of them in Atlanta: a Dancing With the Stars-type performer (Matthew Morrison) and his partner/girlfriend; a celebrity weight loss guru (Cameron Diaz); a couple (Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) who have decided to adopt a child because they can’t conceive; two young food truck chefs (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford) who engage in an unprotected interlude atop a car and end up in trouble; and a baby expert (Elizabeth Banks) who learns that being with child isn’t quite as rosy a picture as the literature promised. To make matters worse, her husband (Ben Falcone of Bridesmaids) finds himself in competition with his race car driver dad (Dennis Quaid), whose glowing young wife (Brooklyn Decker) is also pregnant — with twins.

Also floating around on the edges are a gang of dads who meet in the park every week, a sort of Greek chorus reminding the audience of all the hilarity of poor parenting choices, like picking up the wrong baby from daycare. This conceit could easily been annoying, but the group, thanks mainly to Chris Rock, manages to be amusing, though not enough to make you overlook the lame vomit and “get me an epidural!” jokes. The cast is game, but What to Expect When You’re Expecting plays out more like a long sitcom than a feature film. It’s He’s Just Not That Into You with arguments about circumcision — and it won’t make you long for the release of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, now inexplicably in production.

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Matthew Morrison, Rodrigo Santoro, Elizabeth Banks, Chace Crawford, Anna Kendrick, Ben Falcone, Dennis Quaid, Brooklyn Decker, Chris Rock.

Director: Kirk Jones.

Screenwriters: Shauna Cross, Heather Hach. Based on the books by Heidi Murkoff.

Producers: Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, David Thwaites.

A Lionsgate Films release. Running time: 110 minutes. Crude and sexual content, thematic elements, language. Opens Friday May 18 at area theaters.


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