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'Baby Mama' a smart romantic comedy

Baby Mama (PG-13)

Three stars out of four

Tina Fey is the first former female "Saturday Night Live" cast member to enjoy real success after leaving the show. She wrote and co-starred in the triumphant "Mean Girls" and has received Emmys for writing on "SNL" and acting on "30 Rock." She's a powder keg of creativity and talent and might have just made two of the shrewdest moves of her career with "Baby Mama."

Fey proves she can play a believable romantic leading lady in a project she didn't write. If the movie makes money, it can be attributed to her thespian skills and rarely seen vulnerability. If it doesn't, it can be blamed on her not having any creative input. She wins either way.

If you go for the laconic Fey wit, drenched in sarcasm but possessing a heart, you'll get it - most of the time. For the remainder, you might get the impression Fey is trying to be Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts. This isn't a bad thing as such, it's just not her.

Fey is the anti girl-next-door who is quite pretty but whose initial draw is her intellect, accented by her trademark, horn-rimmed glasses. We love her because she's not perky or glamorous. The few times in the movie where she tries to shed that image, the story stops dead in its tracks. Kate, the character Fey plays in the film, also might be too much her character on "30 Rock" - slightly insecure and wondering if all that time climbing the corporate ladder might have been better spent spawning.

Without immediate marital prospects, learning she'll probably never get pregnant and adoption might take forever, Kate goes to a specialist (Sigourney Weaver) to find a surrogate mother. Showing a glint of desperation, Kate settles on Angie (Amy Poehler), a fellow Philadelphian who is everything Kate is not.

Content to spend her time watching reality TV, singing karaoke, eating junk food and remaining the very definition of white trash, Angie welcomes the position. It will also allow her a welcomed break from Carl (Dax Shepard), her slovenly, almost-common-law husband.

Writer/director Michael McCullers deserves credit for tossing in one solid twist to the otherwise predictable plot and being smart enough to cast Poehler as Fey's foil. With a long-running co-anchor position with Fey on the SNL's "Weekend Update" segment, McCullers saved himself a heap of guess work and loads of rehearsal time by pitting Poehler opposite Fey.

Greg Kinnear shows up early on as Rob, Kate's defacto love interest, but in reality, it is Angie. This is the sole reason the movie is deeper than it might appear on the surface. Kate and Angie don't become lovers and at points, don't like each other all that much, but bring something new to the romantic comedy table. They grow, learn, bond and blah-blah, but in most unexpected ways. Their relationship lends the movie a decided, sideways tilt.

Stealing scenes whenever they appear are Romany Malco as Kate's streetwise doorman and Steve Martin as her filthy-rich, far too affected organic boss. Both always seem to arrive at just the right time when the movie might be drifting into too-precious territory.

"Baby Mama" is mostly smart, somewhat angular and never overtly cute - a truly rare combination in mainstream romantic comedies. For that reason alone, it's well worth your time. (Universal)