Background: Saturday Night Live has been the virtual home to comedians for generations now, providing a testing ground for them to explore concepts in skit form, many working much better over the span between commercial breaks than as full fledged movies. That is perhaps the most common saying I've heard over the years when cast members of the occasionally popular show make the transition to the big screen, a pop cultural truism if ever one existed. This is not to say that rare successes haven't appeared from time to time but the odds are surprisingly against those associated with the show that I doubt anyone is surprised when most of those flicks tank. Perhaps less common then, or merely less accessible to our conscious minds, are the times when a boilerplate comedy appears, does a modest box office, but still falls far short of warranting accolades. One such comedy is Baby Mama, this review of the Blu-Ray version showing how overboard one can get on a marginal flick.
Tina and Amy (pictures courtesy of Amazon)
Movie: Baby Mama is the brainchild of writer Michael McCullers, a freshman director with substantial ties to Saturday Night Live himself. The show stars lovely Tina Fey as Kate Holbrook, a successful businesswoman who laments that while other women were "getting pregnant" she was "getting promotions" in the first part of the show. Working as a major executive for a health food grocery chain called "Round Earth" headed by hippy Barry (Steve Martin in a ponytail, spouting new age crap as though it were profound), Kate has tried all options to have a child out of wedlock but found her business acumen better than her poorly designed uterus, said body part giving her a one in a million chance to conceiving at her advanced age of 37. As a single mother, adoption could take her 5 years and she wants a baby now gosh darn it, the sperm bank yielding no results so she drops $100,000 at an agency that employs surrogate mothers ("it costs more to have someone born than to have someone killed" met with a deadpan "it takes longer" by the ever pregnant owner of the agency Chaffee Bicknell as played by Sigourney Weaver). In return, the agency handles all the details, including background checks on prospective surrogates to make sure they are not crack whores or third world losers. Yes, the idea that everything has a price tag on it starts off early in the movie and carries forth until the end for those that love the built in cynicism of modern SNL releases.
Tina and Steve
Kate then meets her potential surrogate Angie Ostrowicki (Amy Poehler) and the pair hit it off despite so many glaring differences between them. Angie is a trailer trash type of gal that spouts profanity and has a common law husband that is as lame as they come (Dax Shepard as "Carl") but she has a viable uterus, a valuable commodity for the time pressed Kate to "rent". Kate has built her life around planning and precision while Angie goes with the flow, preferring to engage in videogame karaoke or go clubbing than pursue her dreams. Amy's love of junk food also becomes a major point of contention between the pair, Kate obsessively reading up on all the latest theories and trying to impose them on her surrogate given her control freak ways. The rest of the movie dealt with the usual formulaic approach including courtroom drama, a side romance starring Greg Kinnear as Rob, and both ladies learning something from the other in a culture-shock ridden series of modestly amusing skits that were typically hit or miss.
Amy and Romany
Steve Martin is largely wasted here as was Kinnear, the whole point of this self admitted chick flick being to give women a few smiles as the characters deal with the usual male stereotypes and feel good that they aren't alone. The premise of the movie itself is scary, essentially coming off as promoting "baby making" as a business and children as commodities to be bought and sold. In terms of the leads, Tina is given the straight role in defiance of her talents and Amy's mugging goes over the top in just about every scene. The brightest star of the movie was scene stealer Romany Malco as the hilarious doorman, making offhand remarks that were both accurate (especially about baby mommas) as well as unexpected but as much as I liked his limited portions of the movie, even they were not enough to save the inherently flawed buddy flick from meriting more than a Rent It status. Maybe if Ms. Fey had written the movie it would have truly been more representative of a female point of view (and her character would not have been such a watered down cold fish) or if the director had been simply worn fewer hats he could have focused on making a movie somewhat less predictable but ultimately, Baby Mama is the type of forgettable movie that one watches when at home sick with the flu when no one is around to get up and change the channel for you.
Tina, Sigourney and Amy
Picture: Baby Mama Blu-Ray was presented in a crisp 1080p color widescreen offering with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and using the VC-1 codec for the high definition version. The colors were accurate, the level of detail very nice indeed, and the lack of compression artifacts no surprise as this recently came out in theaters, if to lackluster returns. There were some scenes in the movie that looked a bit out of focus but more of them provided some additional depth of field as enhanced by the upgraded resolution with the video bitrate hovering around the 20 Mbps area as often as not. I saw no moiré, edge enhancement, or other major problems though so the visual elements were technically solid in terms of supporting the storyline in high definition, perhaps overkill but not a factor to make or break the movie either.
Sound: The audio was presented with a primary track being a DTS-HD Master Audio in 5.1 English (the secondary tracks being 5.1 DTS in Spanish or French with each of the three languages covered in terms of optional subtitles). The primary track being lossless makes me feel it should have been more exploited but for the most part, the rear speakers and subwoofer were not utilized in the slightest (outside of the blaring clubbing scene), a majority of the aural experience coming from the center speaker alone. I know this isn't an action flick or a musical so the relative lack of separation was not as important but with an audio bitrate hovering in the 3.8 Mbps area (often going higher), I kind of expected more from it. The vocals were as crisp as one would expect and the intermittent music used for the score was amusing (at times) if not particularly imaginative, resulting in a sonic experience that is also largely forgettable but not bad either.
Extras: There were two main extras included on the disc, a feature commentary with writer/director Michael McCullen, producer Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, as well as a Picture-in-Picture feature that contained various clips and interviews. The commentary was tedious for me, I lasted about ten minutes before I started spot checking it for signs of life. The ladies were outspoken but had little of interest to say, leaving the heavy hitting to the men who did even less to maintain my interest levels. I like to hear about funny anecdotes or examples of what the director was trying to accomplish in my commentaries yet they all acted like they were at a social gathering mired in small talk as part of a contractual obligation. The PIP featured fared better, numerous points of the movie showing those associated with the release describing what was the point of something, bits that inspired them to do certain things on a particular way, and how portions came together to enhance the greater whole. While the feature was rarely used to full advantage, it wasn't as lame as most of the now-standardized extras modern comedies have (I believe the SD version had that type of extras) though I fully expect a double dip release to come out in the future if sales merit one, allowing the additional material to be sold a second time.
Final Thoughts: Baby Mama was hardly the kind of starring role Tina Fey deserves, her resemblance to Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin by way of Savanna Samson sure to be exploited at some point on her busy schedule in the future to better effect (at least I hope so). A friend suggested that the movie was a lot like the superior Baby Boom but I disagree since the Diane Keeton release had superior writing, acting, and depth (plus, it was centered on the way the baby impacted her life rather than obtaining the baby was here). It was not the worse movie of the year and as a chick flick, you could do worse even if you abhor the thematic concepts this one relied so heavily on but the technical specs were okay and as another attempt by SNL regulars to break into the big leagues, it was not a complete waste of time.