By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As expected, What to Expect When You’re Expecting fails to exceed expectations.

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No surprise there, given that this ensemble comedy has emerged from a non-narrative self-help book.

(2 stars out of 4)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting centers on five interconnected Atlanta couples going through the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the childbirth process for the first time.

Fitness-show host Cameron Diaz and dancer Matthew Morrison, a team on a celebrity dance show, are surprised to learn that they’re with child.

Author and breastfeeding boutique owner Elizabeth Banks, dealing with fertility issues, and dentist husband Ben Falcone have tried unsuccessfully to conceive for two years and have nearly given up.

Suddenly, results.

But champion race-car driver Dennis Quaid, as the dentist’s competitive dad, and his young wife, Brooklyn Decker, have an announcement of their own to make.

Photographer Jennifer Lopez and ad agency exec Rodrigo Santoro are spouses indulging in adoption of an Ethiopian orphan with widely varying levels of anticipation: she can’t wait, he’s not sure he wants to.

And twentysomething food truck owner Anna Kendrick and colleague and rival Chace Crawford, high school classmates back in the day, learn that their one-night stand has them expecting.

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Meanwhile, Chris Rock and Thomas Lennon are part of a “dudes’ group” — a roving pack of stroller-pushing new dads — dishing out advice to nervous fathers-to-be.

Director Kirk Jones’ (Waking Ned Devine, Nanny McPhee, Everybody’s Fine) crowd-pleaser, seemingly designed by committee to amuse and comfort rather than to provoke and stimulate, traffics in predictability and universality in its pursuit of knowing smiles.

The variations-on-a-theme screenplay by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach, based on the best-selling 1984 guidebook of the same name by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel — a pregnancy bible of sorts — includes among its too-many contrived or extraneous subplots a handful of factoids and advice from the book but otherwise shares little with the book other than the title and overall subject.

What the film needs to work is emotional authenticity throughout all three trimesters, rather than the uneven attempts at credibility that its array of characters offer, as the film (ironically) babies the audience by soft-pedaling conflict and complication.

The cast is sufficiently game, with Lopez, Banks, and Kendrick bringing their characters to most persuasive life. And we get past the moments of forced charm well enough.

But the film pays the inevitable price by divvying up screen time among so many principals.  When all is said and done, What to Expect When You’re Expecting boasts about as much depth as a slick commercial aimed at a well-defined demographic.

To say nothing — speaking of which — of the abundant product placement that is perhaps the film’s steadiest and most prominent element.

So we’ll conceive 2 stars out of 4 for the superficial pregnancy comedy, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

It arrives just as expected, but falls short of the proverbial smooth delivery.

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