Junior" is clearly a movie conceived not in passion but in vitro: in a lab, guided by blueprints for big bucks.
It basically has only one joke -- that is, if you don't count Emma Thompson falling down all the time -- and imagine how bad the movie would be if that one joke wasn't funny.
Fortunately it is, even if director Ivan Reitman twists it into more permutations than a Rubik's Cube. The high-concept joke: Ah-nald is pregnant.
From his days as Conan to his kill-a-thon duties with the electric mini-gun in "Terminator 2," no actor has been so drenched in, so oozing with, high-octane testosterone as the lantern-jawed, stogie-chomping muscle boy Schwarzenegger.
And now Arnold, a bun in his oven, is at last . . . sensitive. Play "The World Turned Upside Down" allegro furioso, please. Arnold is in touch with himself. Arnold's softer, more feminine side is at last liberated.
Arnold is radiant, abloom. Arnold's feet are sore and he has to go to the bathroom all the time. Arnold eats pickles and pistachio ice cream. Arnold is ditsy.
Yes, mark it down as a significant moment in the history of men and women: Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned into Lucille Ball. (Nothing quite as funny happens as Lucy in the candy factory or Lucy squashing grapes, however).
But Arnold, who is not without a small morsel of comedic ability, does extremely well with his modest gifts: He lifts a single massive eyebrow in pixie-ish pique, or he pirouettes ever so daintily as he comes down the stairs, or he lets that heretofore tectonically immutable face briefly light with emotion. He gets cramps, morning sickness and body-hate, usually at once.
Of course, he goes from the obsolete stereotype of manhood to the obsolete stereotype of womanhood, but let's not make a big deal of it, because, after all, it is pretty consistently funny.
Given the sheer genius of the concept, just about anyone could have written the screenplay to "Junior" and it would have been as funny as Kevin Wade and Chris Conrad's version.
To their credit, however, the humor isn't just one-liners, but structured adroitly to yield a continual harvest of comic situations. Still, the one-liners are the funniest thing.
Reitman, the producer turned director ("Ghostbusters," "Twins," "Kindergarten Cop," "Dave"), who's evolved a pleasingly low-key comic style, is wise in the way he sets the piece up: He understands that the fundamental absurdity of Der Arnold preggers must be rooted in some kind of reality in order to play funny.
The reality is medical research. Schwarzenegger is a lab doc working in concert with OB-GYN medico Danny DeVito in hopes of developing and marketing a drug that assists in carrying difficult pregnancies to term, as lab tests with chimps have borne out. However, when the Food and Drug Administration refuses to authorize human experiments, the sponsoring university research installation, headed by elegant sleaze Frank
Langella, boots them out and brings in a new and potentially more promising research unit, headed by Emma Thompson's Dr. Diana Reddin.
DeVito knows that if he tests the drug on a woman, he'll risk massive censure. But if he can convince a man -- Ah-nald, are you paying attention? -- to allow himself to be implanted with fertilized egg and, under the influence of the drug, actually achieve a first trimester pregnancy, the publicity benefits alone will assure him of taking it to the next step and continuing the development.
What he doesn't expect is that Arnold's Dr. Alex Hesse will actually make emotional contact with the thing growing in his tummy and, after the first trimester, choose life. As Arnold says: "It's my body; I'll determine what happens to it!"
Hmmm. Certain questions are never answered. Obviously we're talking C-section, but doesn't an embryo need a uterus and a placenta? What happens to the organs already in there, where do they go? How does it feed?
But the plot nevertheless hustles on. Not only is Arnold pregnant and growing to like it, but so is DeVito's ex-wife, played with her usual throaty amusement by Pamela Reed, in a subplot that offers some comic foil to Arnold's situation.
The movie's most significant flaw is that while it desperately wants to profit from the evident good chemistry between Arnold and Thompson's Dr. Reddin, no one can really come up with a good situation by which they can relate, so for the longest time, they just bump into each other.
Thompson, of course, is a magnificent actress, and unlike a Streep or a Lange, she has a gift for physical comedy. Alas, this is a crutch upon which Reitman too heavily depends for too long a time, and the least funny parts of "Junior" watch as she does an imitation of one of the Three Stooges, blasting into and through people and things.
She's good-humored about it, however, and one never feels particularly embarrassed for her; merely, one wishes she were more fully integrated into the story.
"Junior" has, in fact, lots of things wrong with it, but one thing indisputably right with it: I laughed all the way through.
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito and Emma Thompson
Director: Ivan Reitman
Released by: Universal