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Review: 'What to Expect When You're Expecting' is no surprise

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
updated 5:08 PM EDT, Sat May 19, 2012
Elizabeth Banks, left, and Brooklyn Decker star in
Elizabeth Banks, left, and Brooklyn Decker star in "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The movie is based on Heidi Murkoff's pregnancy bible
  • The jokes are feeble and the conflicts never transcend sitcom material, Tom Charity says
  • "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is entirely predictable, the reviewer says

(CNN) -- Hollywood loves a cash cow, and Heidi Murkoff's pregnancy bible surely qualifies.

It spent more than a decade on The New York Times' best-seller lists, and there are some 17 million copies in print. So what if there's no story? There's a name -- and as all parents know, that's a major achievement in itself.

So, what to expect from "What to Expect When You're Expecting" -- the movie?

Like other recent "concept" films, those cynical date movies -- "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve" for instance -- the film wears a celebrity-studded thong to cover any perceived shortcomings in the script department.

They come in all shapes and sizes, new and old. Kids your kids will know like Anna Kendrick, and Chace Crawford, TV personalities like "Glee's" Matthew Morrison and Cheryl Cole (playing herself) rubbing shoulders with inescapable media magnets like Chris Rock and Jennifer Lopez.

Celebs talk highs & lows of motherhood
Cameron Diaz explains her 'fake boobs'
JLo calls adopting 'selfless' act

We even get celebrities playing celebrities: Cameron Diaz as motivational weight-loss guru/dance show winner Jules, Elizabeth Banks as baby store owner/nursery book author Wendy, Dennis Quaid as Wendy's overbearing father-in-law, an ex-NASCAR champ, Ramsey.

These aren't people you meet in my neighborhood, but types we know well from talk shows and supermarket tabloids, and see, here's the point, when it comes to obstetrics, they're just like you and me: anxious, nauseous, excited, and at the mercy of the fates.

Screenwriters Shauna Cross and Heather Hach hop between half a dozen couples, most of them residents of Atlanta, and each allocated a representative pregnancy issue. Holly and Alex (Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro) are adopting a Kenyan baby, but he's getting cold feet and she's losing her best-paid gig. Rival food cart chefs Rosie and Marco (Kendrick and Crawford) get pregnant on their first date, and don't know if they're ready to remake "Knocked Up" so soon. Meanwhile Wendy wants everything to be just perfect but isn't prepared for the gas. ...

The jokes are feeble and the conflicts never transcend sitcom material -- in other words, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" is entirely predictable and not a little redundant. The days when the movies would discreetly close the door when a woman went into labor ("Hot water, and lots of it!") are long gone.

It's been nearly 30 years since Murkoff's book was first published, and there's hardly an aspect of pregnancy that hasn't been channeled into Hollywood cliché. Which isn't to deny there's something reassuring about seeing other people going through this stuff one more time.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of what is largely, admittedly, an inoffensive and anodyne enterprise, is the sad spectacle of Rock and chums wheeling strollers through the park in the service of lame gags about baby-whipped dads. As far as we've come, it would seem that half the world's parents are still little more than a laughingstock.

Final word: not worth the sitter.

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