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Maybe Baby review

Comedian, playwright, author, screenwriter and now director: Ben Elton is on a quest to become the most ubiquitous man in British show- business. However, if this lacklustre affair is anything to go by, then Elton is spreading himself a little thin.

It's not that his flair as a writer is entirely missing - - there are some funny lines scattered around. But the film, particularly in the rather slapstick first act, feels far too episodic, as if Elton thought up loads of fertility gags and then just threw them all together.

Laurie and Richardson try hard, but are never entirely convincing as a couple. The main problem is that Laurie - - too thin-lipped and public school to ever be truly successful as a romantic lead - - hogs the best lines while Richardson is relegated to playing a hormonal bubble-head for most of the movie. Ironically, when Sam first shows his script to a pair of colleagues, their criticisms are that it's "too blokeish" and the female character is two-dimensional: a charge that could equally be levelled at Elton's effort.

For the first 30 minutes or so, the tone is frothy and light-hearted. Sam and Lucy's terribly right-on friends, who think nothing of sitting around discussing each other's fallopian tubes after dinner, dole out advice like ""try bonking on a ley line"". But as they begin to run out of bizarre new-age practices and arcane rituals, the couple have to face the cold and clinical possibility of medical fertility treatments, and it's here that things start to become more interesting. Lucy, injected full of hormones and teetering on a breakdown, finds herself attracted to one of her clients, while Sam starts stealing large chunks of her diary entries to include in his script.

The cast list reads like a Who's Who of Elton's comedy mates: Dawn French pops up as an irrepressibly cheery Australian nurse; Emma Thompson has a cameo as the couple's oddball hippy friend Druscilla; and Rowan Atkinson plays an utterly repellent obstetrician. While they and the other performers (including Tom Hollander and Adrian Lester) give it their best shot, it has to be said that there are no stand-out performances. And although the plot becomes more interesting once it shifts to a darker mood (and Elton resists the temptation to tie everything up with a nice, neat happy ending), Maybe Baby is not remotely cinematic and might have more comfortably found its audience on the small screen.

Maybe Baby works better once the emphasis has moved from pratfalls to black, bittersweet humour. Elton's debut venture into direction has some entertaining moments, but there's still not much to recommend this disappointingly mediocre comedy.

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