Baby Mama Mia!

This surrogate comedy turns out to be much funnier than previews indicate

The last time I'd put up with someone else selecting a movie for me, a girl's-night-out group chose Fool's Gold, even before they knew Matthew McConaughey's character doesn't seem to own any shirts. I'd seen the previews. There were a couple of funny jokes, sure—a midget buried in a barrel (ha ha), Kate Hudson hates her ex (giggle). Know what? Those funnies were all the amusement in the entire movie.

This time the Metro Pulse editors picked the flick, presumably because I'm the only one on staff who's ever required an epidural. They sent me to see Baby Mama.

The previews for this one, I'd also seen. It looked pretty cute. The doorman tells the uptight businesswoman, Kate (Tina Fey), who's just hired a surrogate, that she now has a baby mama, just like him. Right on! Funny! Maura Tierney licks brown stuff off her son's arm; might be poop. Laugh! Amy Poehler, as the working-class surrogate for Kate, pees in the sink. Sort of funny. I'll give it a third of a laugh. So I sit down in the same theater where I'd watched Fool's Gold and wait for those two and a third jokes.

But hold on. Here's a laugh that didn't show before Definitely Maybe. A sanctimonious OB/GYN telling Kate that he doesn't like her uterus. And another: Holland Taylor, playing Kate's mom, Rose, being deliciously, innocently catty about Kate's deviant lifestyle (she dares, at 37, to be single). So I stop waiting for the laughs I already know about and settle back to appreciate this not-too-fast, not-too-slow humor and pretty decent plot. Make that a good plot—very good, in fact, in the two places that totally surprised me, one about halfway through, one closer to the end. And that's not even counting one character's astonishing aversion to the song "Lady in Red."

There's also a wonderful comic rapport between the two passionately involved characters—no, not Kate and this guy she sorta likes. I mean baby buyer and baby mama. In this farce, they're much more believable as two characters who got together to procreate than, say, the couple in Knocked Up. They're drawn to each other, but not too close, Kate with her under-the-top prissiness and a sweet dollop of sass, Angie with her brass flakiness. (Is she a Red Bull- and Tasty Cake-primed idiot or a wise child in club clothes who knows she ain't fooling anyone, but it sure is fun to try?)

They both get great lines and know how to bounce them off each other's amused but condescending faces. Angie: "Organic? That's crap for rich people who hate themselves." Kate as she and Angie sing a video karaoke version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun": "My avatar is dressed like a whore." They're so believably involved that even their break-up scene plays right, down to Angie getting locked in the car as she tries to flee.

These two are the champs, but the supporting cast shines, too. Carl (Dax Shepard), Baby Mama's sleazoid boyfriend, has a soul on permanent lease to the devil, but he's unreasonably appealing and fights Angie with the best of them ("Consider all your friends laid!"); Sigourney Weaver as the surrogate firm's head is just icky enough to make you squirm.

Steve Martin as Barry, the new-age guru Kate works for, is sublime—it's the first time in untold movies that he's had to extend a role beyond playing Steve Martin. He pours his all into fixed stares and kooky lines like, "I wish to reward you with five minutes of uninterrupted eye contact." And even though Greg Kinnear as Rob can't work up a whole lot of chemistry with Fey, and he uses the same jaw smirk that made him so odious but real as the father on Little Miss Sunshine, he's pretty OK, too, a sweet foil to the chaos.

Last, but not least at all, are the great one- or two-line characters and scenarios that keep the film moving: the Wiccan surrogate to Methodist parents; the birthing coach lisping out "lesbian lovers"; the pandering server at the vegan restaurant. The laughs are way too many for a preview, or even a review. Which makes me glad I got to the show too late to see another movie previewed. Why get my hopes up? That would be Fool-ish.