Baby Mama may be Tina Fey’s first starring big-screen role, but what it desperately needs more of isn’t Fey the smart, self-deprecating comedian but Fey the sharp, witty writer, as this snoozer from Michael McCullers (scribe of all three Austin Powers movies) is as pedestrian and middling as they come. That the film also features SNL‘s Amy Poehler makes the proceedings’ crushing mediocrity that much more frustrating, as buried somewhere within this tired story about a single Philly executive who hires a white-trash surrogate to have her baby are the seeds of an amusing saga about the perils of single parenting. Alas, those kernels are miles below the surface of this unadventurous tale, in which organic food market VP Kate (Fey)—a watery version of Fey’s 30 Rock heroine Liz Lemon—learns that her uterus isn’t fit for procreation, and reacts by hiring slobbish idiot Angie (Poehler) to be a human incubator for her artificially fertilized eggs. When Angie ditches her dim-witted common-law hubby Carl (Dax Shepard), the supportive Kate suggests they be apartment-mates, leading to odd-couple squabbles with all the vitality of a dead cat.
McCullers predominantly focuses on this Felix-and-Oscar comedy of opposition, a decision that makes sense considering pals Fey and Poehler’s natural yin-yang chemistry, but one that’s nonetheless undercut by sloppiness, as the majority of gags and plot turns are hopelessly telegraphed and worn-out. Rather than a fun, romantic lark about intelligent city-dwelling career woman looking for love, Baby Mama is nothing but a collection of lame scenarios—some featuring Steve Martin as a New Age dolt with a ponytail—propped up by its leading ladies’ inherent likeability and the occasional loopy one-liner. The film’s decision to avoid having its characters learn something constructive and valuable about motherhood, professional success, and friendship is, in light of many similar comedies’ late-inning preaching, mildly refreshing. Too bad such omissions seem attributable not to genre-bending innovation but, like the climactic happily-ever-after involving Greg Kinnear and a near-miracle, simply screenwriting laziness.