Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant: among what are known in Hollywood as high-concept premises, this one takes the cake. It is high-concept haiku, a gallingly simple formula for a feature-length sight gag with blockbuster potential. Factor in Danny DeVito as Arnold’s buddy and the sight gag is squared—Humpty Dumpty meets the mother of all Teutons. (The combination was successfully tested in 1988’s Twins) Finally, as a wild-card move, pluck actress Emma Thompson from the tony pastures of Merchant-Ivoryland (Howards End, The Remains of the Day) and make her Schwarzenegger’s love interest—a coupling that seems almost as preposterous as a man’s pregnancy. And, sure enough, Junior’s formula generates laughs like some kind of foolproof comic fertility drug.
Yet the movie, smoothly delivered by the Canadian-born director of Twins, Ivan Reitman, weighs in at slightly more than the sum of its contrived parts. Instead of creating a farce that is as broad as the premise, the filmmakers have made their story seem oddly credible. Alex (Schwarzenegger) and Larry (DeVito) are two biotechnologists experimenting with a new drug called Expectane designed to prevent women’s bodies from rejecting fetal tissue. After the university cuts their funding and evicts them from their lab, Larry steals a frozen egg from a batch brought in by the lab’s new tenant (Thompson) and persuades Alex to play guinea pig in
an artificial-insemination experiment. Once the drug’s merits are proven, he is supposed to end his secret pregnancy after the first trimester. But Alex decides to keep the baby.
Junior takes a while to get into gear. Once it does, Schwarzenegger plays pregnancy as a good-natured drag act. It is amusing to see the Superman physique turn pear-shaped, to watch Alex’s eyes moisten with unbidden emotions, and to hear him complain about sore nipples as female hormones surge through his system.
But those are push-button laughs. The movie gets truly funny only when Thompson enters a scene. Cast as a charming klutz, she enlivens the comedy with the kind of dazzling, quicksilver wit she first displayed in The Tall Guy. Unfortunately, the focus is on the two male stars, and whenever she is offscreen, things seem dull by comparison. Even the script smartens up when she is around, as she volleys feminist barbs off Schwarzenegger’s tough hide.
Junior1 s sexual politics are cagey. As if to counteract the strong pro-life sentiments, at one point, when a university official tries to commandeer Alex for medical science, he yells, “My body, my choice!” Reitman, meanwhile, maintains a balance between soft satire and sweet sentiment. But in the end, without pushing too hard, Reitman lets the full-bore drama of childbirth take over. And, with the irresistible momentum of a blockbuster baby screaming for daylight, Junior turns out just fine.
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