SXSW ’12 Review: Director Jay Chandrasekhar’s Tentative Sincerity Steps Undermined In Uneven, Sophomoric ‘Babymakers’

SXSW '12 Review: Director Jay Chandrasekhar's Tentative Sincerity Steps Undermined In Uneven, Sophomoric 'Babymakers'
SXSW '12 Review: Director Jay Chandrasekhar's Tentative Sincerity Steps Undermined Uneven, Sophomoric 'Babymakers'

If you thought that “Knocked Up” was too mature a take on impending fatherhood, then “Babymakers” just might be the movie for you. Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, it follows the comical misadventures of a husband who is reluctant to discover whether or not his sperm is “confused” – and if so, how he’ll handle getting his wife pregnant. Marginally more sophisticated than Chandrasekhar’s efforts with the comedy troupe Broken Lizard, “Babymakers” starts off solidly before getting sidetracked by set pieces that take over the entire narrative – and ultimately reveal how little of one there was in the first place.

Paul Schneider (“Water for Elephants”) plays Tommy Macklin, a husband who agrees to start a family with his wife Audrey (Olivia Munn) but soon discovers that tons of tries don’t make a difference if you’re incapable of conceiving. Citing his efforts five years prior when he successfully donated sperm for “beat off money,” Tommy refuses to believe he’s the reason Audrey isn’t getting pregnant; but after struggling to provide a sample for their fertility counselor, Tommy discovers that he’s “shooting blanks.” When the doctor prescribes some “mostly painless” procedures to help cure his “confused” sperm, Tommy balks, instead deciding to go back and retrieve one of his older samples. But when he learns that there’s only one left and it’s already scheduled for, uh, dissemination, he’s forced to stage a robbery to reclaim his sperm and ensure his wife’s pregnancy.

Although I’m not typically one to judge the maturity level of a film’s comedy (nor that of its characters), “Babymakers” is chiefly a disappointment because it rewards stupidity. While Schneider’s character Tommy is essentially a well-meaning doofus, he’s best friends with Wade, a character played by Broken Lizard mainstay Kevin Heffernan who is a repository for the consistently worst ideas humanly possible – or, in narrative terms, he’s the guy who drives the plot forward when it (often) stalls. When Tommy runs out of bad ideas, which happens early in the film, Wade steps in with an escalating series of moronic plans, all of which are implemented with a minimum level of competency.

He’s the kind of friend that even an understanding and good-natured wife like Audrey would probably not want her husband spending too much time with, because he could turn a Sunday afternoon football game into a showdown with the cops involving four dead hookers and a kilo of cocaine. And the fact that he’s (1) allowed to make decisions for anyone else and then (2) never remotely punished for his complete and total idiocy becomes a major-league distraction from what is otherwise meant to be a tenderly comical portrait of machismo in the face of impending fatherhood.

That said, it doesn’t help that screenwriters Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow either engineered or allowed their script to bypass anything resembling a recognizable story and instead allowed massive set-piece digressions to take over the depiction of a relationship we’re intended to care about. Tommy’s eventual capitulation to getting his sperm test is admittedly a good set-up for a sequence about his “performance anxiety,” but a good 15 minutes of this film is about him trying to jerk off into a plastic container, and that 15 minutes includes virtually every possible comedic pay off you could imagine, as well as a few you couldn’t. But where’s the damn plot during this time? The latter half of the film is dominated by the “sperm bank heist” story, and its increasing absurdity only takes the audience further and further away from what they were instructed to care about – Tommy and Audrey. By the time the two of them are reunited at the end of the film – and improbably so – it’s obvious there was only ever the loosest possible framework of a plot, and it was hijacked by the sketch comedy sensibilities of guys poorly equipped to produce real feelings.

That said, Schneider is completely charming as Tommy, even when he’s given in to the abject stupidity of Wade’s plans, and he mostly holds the film together when Heffernan and Chandrasekhar are trying to eviscerate any sort of plausibility. And idealized though she is, Olivia Munn does a solid job playing a sensible, sexy wife who could conceivably fall in love with a lunk like Schneider’s character, although it occasionally feels like the main directing advice she got throughout the film was “make sure you smile!” Meanwhile, Heffernan’s a thoroughly convincing idiot, and Chandrasekhar manages to subvert a few racial stereotypes – or at least avoid generating derisive laughter – as a daffy Indian gangster.

But overall, Chandrasekhar’s first tentative venture towards something slightly more sincere is undermined by, quite frankly, his irresistible urge to take the piss out of every sequence that might have been played even remotely seriously. He’s a capable director, and he has a great sense of comic timing, but he’s still only a “comedy director,” which means everything is played for laughs and nothing resonates for more than a few seconds. (Not to mention that plot developments – say, an emerging rift between a husband and wife – is perfunctorily handled at best, and then resolved without ever addressing what might have been going on under the surface.) Ultimately, “Babymakers” starts off promisingly, but pays off prematurely, which is why the sterner stuff of deeper feeling should be nurtured, and the sophomoric hijinks strangled in the crib – or at the very least, thoroughly disciplined. [C-]

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