What to Expect When You're Expecting is a film based on the self-help book. Unlike its source material, which reflects a recognizable world where mothers-to-be get morning sickness and fathers-to-be get sympathetic pregnancies, the movie unfolds in a parallel universe where (almost) everyone has his or her own television reality show.

Thus there's the celebrity personal trainer (Cameron Diaz), host of a program much like The Biggest Loser, with child by her dance partner (Matthew Morrison), a professional hoofer on a show much like So You Think You Can Dance?

There are rival food-truck chefs (Anna Kendrick and Chace Crawford) resembling contestants on The Great Food Truck Race. After their one-night stand they have a muffin in the oven.

There's the retired NASCAR legend (Dennis Quaid) and his trophy wife (Brooklyn Decker). They have no problem conceiving and do so apparently at the same nanosecond as his grown son (Ben Falcone) and baby-expert wife (Elizabeth Banks), who have been struggling to make a baby for years.

And then there's an account executive (Rodrigo Garcia) and his baby-photographer wife (Jennifer Lopez), in their third trimester of adoption anticipation. This pair, the only ones without celeb connections, is also the most glam couple in Atlanta.

One is repeatedly reminded that WTEWYE is an alternative universe because although this is Atlanta, Chris Rock is virtually the only African American who is not a gynecologist or a nurse. Rock plays Garcia's pal, the leader of a gang of glum, stroller-pushing papas mourning the days when they regarded lady parts as pleasure producers rather than baby makers. According to Rock's character, baby world "is where happiness goes to die."

If Rock were prescribed as birth control, surely he would be 99.9 percent effective. So what are he and his band of dour dudes doing in a movie celebrating the multiple arrivals of "little angels"?

Ask Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine), the driver of this omnibus that alternately reveres and desecrates its source, Heidi Murkoff's baby "Bible." Ask scribes Shauna Cross (writer of the wonderful Whip It!) or Heather Hach (the hilarious Freaky Friday remake) if soiled diaper cloths are really the most effective antidotes to baby fever.

Admittedly, the movie has moments. In her move from slapstick to solemn and back again, Banks is deft and affecting. As they participate in an African adoption ritual, Lopez and Garcia are moving. The filmmakers do little to unify the multi-strand narrative and its ensuing extreme mood shifts.

So although this multicharacter stew has a tasty morsel or two, in the aggregate it makes one long for the comparative complexity and subtlety of Valentine's Day.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at carriedrickey@gmail.com or http://www.carrierickey.com.