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Friday, Sept. 1, 2006

Raunchy fun with an aging virgin

It's always pleasant to stumble upon those rare occasions when Hollywood manages to critique itself. Sure, there are the obvious examples like "The Player" or "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," but you can find it in less obvious places too.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin Rating: (3.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Steve Carell and Elizabeth Banks in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (c)2005 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Director: Judd Apatow
Running time: 116 minutes
Language: English
Opens Sept. 2, 2006
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Take this week's new release, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," a raunchy romantic comedy about a man who's still trying (or not) to score, some two decades after high school. Said "cherry-boy" has no girls in his life, but plenty of action figures and comic books, and the movie dares to suggest that being obsessed with superheroes past age 20 means, well, that you'll be regarded as a bit of a dweeb.

That's a rare dose of real-world honesty from an industry whose greatest efforts are dedicated to foisting teen-boy demographic movies like "Spiderman" and "Superman" on general audiences. Hollywood is determined to make us all love dweeb culture these days -- as produced by arch-dweebs like George Lucas or Peter Jackson -- and it's a truly brave move for a film to say, "Hey, the superhero thing, for grownups, that just ain't cool."

That, in and of itself, is enough to make you love "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," but it's also an outrageously funny flick, the kind of very non-PC humor that The Farrelly Brothers perfected with "There's Something About Mary." Whether it's a bunch of dudes discussing how to chat up girls ("Just ask questions. Women never listen to what we say, anyway") or an extended riff on condom misapplication, the jokes here are rude, crude, and pretty damn effective: You will laugh despite yourself.

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" follows the travails of a milquetoast named Andy, played by Steve Carell (who also cowrote the script with director Judd Apatow), who works at an electronics franchise, where he makes little impression other than being a bore. He's invited by his coworkers to a poker game one night, and there he's outed as a virgin. As the guys exchange tales of sexual escapades, Andy tries to wing it, but trips up when he describes a woman's breast as feeling like "a bag of sand."

His coworkers then launch a campaign to get him laid. Jay (Romany Malco), a brother who thinks he's got a way with the ladies, sagely advises Andy to "tackle drunk bitches." Stoner grunge-dude Cal (Seth Rogen) and on-the-rebound David (Paul Rudd) also chime in with conflicting and equally egregious advice. Andy learns a bit from each of them, but as is usually the case with such things, has to find his own way to make it happen.

Andy strikes out at bar pickups and speed dating, but has better luck meeting women who work in the same mall. Bookstore clerk Beth (Elizabeth Banks) is attracted to Andy, but turns out to be a bit too freaky for him. His best bet is Trish (the always excellent Catherine Keener), but even here, the pressure is a bit too much for Andy; when Trish asks him in bed, "Do you have protection?" He stammers back, "I don't like guns."

Carell walks a fine line as Andy. Clad in his Lacoste shirts and bicycle helmet, and living in a pad decorated with posters of Asia album art and framed Marvel Comics art, he comes across as a total nerd; the actor's job is to make him enough of a nice guy to potentially interest the ladies. The Jim Carrey role, in other words, though Carell is a far less hyperactive actor. (But he certainly kept up with Carrey in "Bruce Almighty"). The premise of the film is bracingly cynical: "Don't you want to experience a relationship?" asks David. "Love and laughing and cuddling . . . all that s***?" David, reeling from a bad breakup, certainly isn't a poster boy for love, but everyone else in the film seems sold on the idea of playing around, even Andy's married female boss. But the film eventually comes around to the romantic idea that sexual experience is nothing without love, a heartwarming proposition that any Drew Barrymore romantic comedy could endorse.

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