READY TO POP

Junior is obviously the product of a one-sentence pitch--"Schwarzenegger gets pregnant!" somebody said, and was told to run with it. Arnie, his co-star Danny DeVito and the director, Ivan Reitman, collaborated previously on a similar high-concept comedy outing--"Schwarzenegger and DeVito are the stars, and we call it Twins!"

Well, if there had to be a film about a buff Austrian guy getting in the family way, Reitman was the right man for the job. His broad, bland, brightly colored style is completely conventional, but that doesn't mean he lacks skill. He's masterly at getting more out of a silly idea than common sense--as opposed to the mysterious logic used by movie execs--would think possible.

Arnie plays a reserved, fastidious researcher working on a fertility drug at Berkeley with his partner, a profit-minded gynecologist (DeVito). The FDA won't approve the drug, but a Canadian firm will buy the formula if DeVito can provide them with data from a human subject. A female guinea pig not being required, DeVito talks Arnie into being temporarily impregnated.

The formula works, the data are gathered, then, at the end of the third trimester, just as Arnie is supposed to get an abortion, he decides he wants to keep the baby. DeVito reluctantly agrees to help him bring it to term. Romance develops between Arnie and a dotty, accident-prone researcher (Emma Thompson) who, not knowing the nature of their experiment, offers them lab space. The plot thickens when Arnie learns where DeVito (surreptitiously) obtained the implanted egg.

Like Twins, this is a one-joke premise, but Reitman, working from a script by Kevin Wade and Chris Conrad, deftly rings variations on that one joke (sadly, it's somewhat rare to find a movie comedy so fertile it actually has one real joke). Sometimes Junior is a satire--a tender, approving one--on the idea of men "getting in touch with their feminine side." At others, it's simply a joke on Arnie's image. It's as the latter that Junior is most effective. Arnie is, and has always been, a one-joke star--he's still a nonactor, but the variety and flexibility and timing he brings to nonacting are amazing and admirable. His performance drives the film comically; he's a dynamic nonactor. He also has--and always has had--a gentle, open quality (regardless of his real-life politics). Among action stars, he's the only one who could pull off Junior without making the concept seem repellently patronizing. A pro-choice reference is pointedly placed in his dialogue; it's sort of a disclaimer, so none of us will suppose the filmmakers (or, presumably, the star) are saying something they're not.

Later, when the plot requires Arnie to dress as a woman, it's used to slip in another plug, against anabolic steroids. This one should be effective--drag makes Arnie look like a female Rondo Hatton. DeVito is zestful and likable as usual, and he throws around his scientific jargon confidently enough to make the premise sound plausible. Frank Langella is stuck with the bum role of a snaky dean, the one-dimensional and gratuitous villain, but Pamela Reed is effective as DeVito's ex, who is also pregnant. Thompson, who already showed her gift for contemporary comedy in Mel Smith's The Tall Guy, comes up with some lovely, spacy line readings, and she looks great. But she isn't well-served by the director--he pushes her goosy adorableness a bit too hard. Still, she has one delightful scene, when she's fallen asleep in her lab, face down in her sandwich. She wakes with a start, calmly baffled as to her whereabouts, with a piece of cheese stuck to her cheek. That cheese looks remarkably becoming on her--it's the perfect accessory.

 
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