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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Friends With Kids' offers a fresh, funny take on having children

Friends with Kids (R)

2 out of 4 stars

For many Gen X and Y couples, "Friends with Kids" will hit a major chord. There's that time in your life when partying and finding "the one" will become secondary or non-existent and you must take that major step and begin procreating. The clock is ticking, expectations (often times of others) must be met and you've got to -- ready or not -- move on to the next phase of your life. If you hang out with people that have already begun reproducing (while you haven't) the pressure could become insurmountable.

What a great premise for a movie.

The first half is by far the most interesting, original and fun. Best buds since grade school Julie (writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) are the last to arrive for dinner at a high-end tony restaurant. There they join married couples Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O'Dowd) and the-still-hot-for-each-other Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Westfeldt's long time off-screen boyfriend Jon Hamm).

A nearby table with parents and their noisy children prod Jason into a minor rant deriding insensitive and inconsiderate people that ruin others' fine dining experience when they bring their ill-behaved kids. After a beat Leslie and Alex announce that they're pregnant and uncomfortable laughter ensues. The following scene -- four years later -- finds Missy and Ben with one child and no more sparks, Leslie and Alex with two and declining hygiene and Julie and Jason still terminally single while exuding more than just a little tick-tock panic.

With the Manhattan setting, the hip, au currant overlapping dialogue, carefully placed profanity and decidedly adult sexual banter, Westfeldt has crafted what appears to be a Woody Allen chick flick. Four of the six principal cast members also appeared together in "Bridesmaids" and there's no reason to think "Friends with Kids" won't be equally as good and genre-busting.

The first crack in the veneer comes with Westfeldt tossing out a riff on "When Harry Met Sally ..." The "can men and women just be friends" premise is retooled into "can a man and a woman that are lifelong friends have a baby together with commitment to the child but none to each other."

For a while, it works. Jason starts dating Broadway actress MJ (Megan Fox, surprisingly effective) and a little later Julie hooks up with the freshly-divorced Kurt (Edward Burns). Hats off to both MJ and Kurt; they plod on within their equally odd situations with grace and good humor and deserve bonus points for being so open-minded and non-judgmental.

If you haven't seen the Westfeldt-penned 2001 flick "Kissing Jessica Stein," you won't notice the parallels between the two films -- and there are many. As the title character in "Jessica," Westfeldt played a 30-something, never-married woman who is tired of trying to find the right man and begins a lesbian relationship with her best friend. "Friends" is the same basic set-up with the now 40-ish Westfeldt character replacing sexual experimentation with child-rearing.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Lisa Kudrow after a couple nips and tucks, Westfeldt would have served herself and the audience far better if she and Wiig -- a far more funny and talented actress -- switched roles. Writing, directing, co-producing and playing the lead took their toll on her and even before the third act kicks in, Westfeldt not only looks spent, the story and the pace completely collapse.

By the time the final scene rolls around, whatever charm and originality the movie had has dissipated and all of it belies exhaustion. The characters speak in manner more akin to 14-year-old boys or longshoreman. It's blunt, frank and patently unsexy. If a man had written it, women would be outraged. Because the dialogue originated with a seemingly progressive female, all they can do is shockingly stare back at the screen with their jaws agape. (Roadside Attractions)