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The Back-up Plan, Date Night among new DVD releases 

THE BACK-UP PLAN (2010). Jennifer Lopez's first screen outing in four years isn't a motion picture so much as it's a new form of Chinese water torture: Seemingly innocuous at first, it continues to pelt the viewer with one abysmal scene after another until insanity seems like the only logical result. Lopez stars as Zoe, a single woman who, tired of waiting for Mr. Right while her biological clock continues to tick away, elects to conceive through artificial insemination. But wouldn't you know it, as she walks out of the clinic, she bumps into a charismatic cheesemaker named Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), and they begin dating. Zoe waits until Stan falls in love with — and makes love to — her before she alerts him to the fact that she's pregnant and that he'll have to deal with this issue if he wants to permanently commit to her. Zoe's actions throughout the picture make her a particularly odious heroine, but that's the least of this film's problems: More detrimental are the slapstick gags scripted by Kate Angelo and directed by Alan Poul, including (but not limited to) the scene in which Zoe wrestles with her dog for possession of a pregnancy test stick and the sequence in which a woman gives birth in a bathtub while members of her single-mom support group chant around her (speaking of the support group, this movie exhibits nothing but contempt and derision toward single women). There's also the usual rom-com character of the outspoken best friend (Michaela Watkins) whose wisecracks are supposed to be funny but are instead merely obnoxious, the expected cutaway shots to the mutt whimpering or barking whenever one of the humans says something stupid (needless to say, this happens frequently), and an unhealthy obsession with scatological humor. The only bright spot is seeing '70s sitcom vets Linda Lavin (Alice) and Tom Bosley (Happy Days) in minor roles; the rest is unspeakably awful.

DVD extras include a 12-minute making-of featurette and four deleted scenes.

Movie: *

Extras: *1/2

DATE NIGHT (2010). The third time's the charm thanks to Date Night, a likable lark that just makes the cut due largely to the appeal of stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey. After suffering through the dreadful one-two sucker punch of Did You Hear About the Morgans? and The Bounty Hunter, it's nice to cozy up to a decent comedy that also centers on a marital couple trying to stay one step ahead of murderous thugs. As Jersey suburbanites Phil and Claire Foster, Carell and Fey not only bounce off each other as accomplished comedians, but they're also completely believable as a longtime married couple who love each other but worry that all excitement has been drained from their union. On one of their patented date nights away from the kids, they opt to head to Manhattan for a swanky dinner at a posh seafood restaurant. Unfortunately, their impulsive act leads to a case of mistaken identity straight out of Alfred Hitchcock, as they find themselves running from dangerous villains while trying to clear their names and escape with all vital organs intact. Shawn Levy is a mediocre director at best (Night at the Museum, ill-advised remakes of The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen), which explains why the movie grinds to a dead halt whenever the attention shifts from the leading players' personalities to the usual bouts of gunplay and vehicular destruction. But the film clicks whenever Carell and Fey are allowed to fully engage each other, and there's also a nice contribution by Mark Wahlberg as a buff security expert whose religion apparently prohibits the donning of shirts — this macho man's perpetual refusal to cover his bulging pecs proves to be a bright running gag. Add to this some clever pop-culture references (quips involving Cyndi Lauper and Fat Albert made me laugh long and loud), and the end result is a pleasant date night in front of the home entertainment center — nothing more, nothing less.

The DVD includes both the theatrical version and an extended cut (running 13 minutes longer). Extras include audio commentary by Levy; a 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with Levy; a 6-minute gag reel; and three amusing PSAs for National Date Night.

Movie: ***

Extras: **

THE LAST SONG (2010). Steve McQueen, Sally Field and George Clooney are among the many actors who successfully transitioned from the small screen to the large one (and don't forget that fellow named Clint), but in the long run, Miley Cyrus seems more likely to join the ranks of Kirk Cameron, Tony Danza and the Olsen twins, thespians who attempted to make the leap but fell short by about 10 miles. In this adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel, the Disney Channel product stars as Ronnie, a brooding teen who's none too thrilled that she's forced to spend the summer with her father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home (filming took place in Savannah and Tybee Island). Still angry at him for divorcing her mom (the ageless Kelly Preston), she shows her disapproval by turning down acceptance at Julliard, refusing to eat dinner with him, and perpetually pouting whenever she's in his presence (that'll teach him!). Initially, Cyrus' character is supposed to be this antiestablishment rebel, but the actress suggests "punk" about as much as Barney the purple dinosaur. At any rate, she eventually mellows out after meeting local hottie Will (Liam Hemsworth), a jock from a rich family. From here, the film slogs its way through the usual hoary conventions, including Will's snotty circle objecting to Ronnie's lack of wealth and prestige as well as the sudden terminal disease sprung on one of the principal players. Cyrus isn't quite ready for her big-screen close-up, as evidenced by her clumsy pauses (as if she expects canned sit-com reactions after her every utterance) as well as exaggerated enunciation more suited to the boob tube. But let's not be too rough on the child: It's hard to put one's best foot forward when dealing with a script that's the literary equivalent of cement shoes.

DVD extras include audio commentary by director Julie Anne Robinson and co-producer Jennifer Gibgot; a 5-minute tour set with Bobby Coleman, who plays Cyrus' insufferable little brother in the movie; and the music video for Cyrus' "When I Look at You."

Movie: *1/2

Extras: *1/2

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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