Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

40-Year-Old Virgin’ consummates comedic idea

(R) ***

August 18, 2005

Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) spends his free time reading comic books, playing his tuba and painting medieval figurines.

His apartment is decorated with framed posters of magician Doug Henning and the band Asia, and filled with his most treasured items: collectible action figurines. Among his favorites are Aquaman and a "Six Million Dollar Man" doll with a see-through bionic eye. He never takes them out to play with, but keeps them packaged in their original plastic to ensure their value.

In many ways, the 40-year-old has done the same thing with his sexuality.

Andy is a virgin who "kind of stopped trying" after a series of early romantic encounters went awry.

His coworkers at the home electronics store Smart Tech think he's a little weird (and possibly a serial killer) until they reluctantly invite him to a poker party. When swapping stories about their kinkiest sexual experience, it becomes painfully clear that Andy is lying -- right about the time he describes a breast as feeling like a "bag of sand."

With his virginity revealed, his newfound friends (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) decide to cure his illness through a series of coaching and meddling.

In "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," former "The Daily Show" correspondent Carell finally gets a starring role after years of memorable supporting turns in projects such as "Anchorman" and "Bruce Almighty." The actor (and co-writer) takes full advantage of the opportunity by delivering a raunchy comedy that also has an undercurrent of sincerity to it.

This is mainly due to the fact that Andy is so likable. Sure he's geeky, but he's not socially inept or humorless. And his true personality is revealed when he begins to date Trish (Catherine Keener), a single mom who is similarly lacking confidence with relationships.

The easy tactic would have been for Carell and director/co-writer Judd Apatow to just make the entire plot a joke about how their titular character is such a dorky loser. (Hey, that's pretty much all "Napoleon Dynamite" did.) But they take the high road and grant some credibility to Andy's lifestyle.

"I respect women," Andy says. "I love women. I respect them so much I stay completely away from them."

Given the woeful exploits of his pals -- Rudd's character is obsessed with an ex-girlfriend, while Malco is relentlessly cheating on his gal -- it's not exactly hard to side with Andy's decision. Some of the movie's best bits involve the trio's constant stream of "advice" that ranges from pop culture witticisms ("Be David Caruso in 'Jade"') to pure misogyny.

They're like an unhinged Greek chorus in that respect -- if by Greek, one means fraternity.

The filmmakers manage to find truth amid the punch lines even when "Virgin" gets a little sitcom-ish, as during Andy's date-gone-wrong with a drunk girl played by Leslie Mann. Director Apatow was one of the geniuses behind "Freaks and Geeks," arguably the best TV show ever made about high school, so he's no stranger to depicting repressed adolescence onscreen.

Like most recent comedies -- "Wedding Crashers," for instance -- "Virgin" peters out somewhat during its third act. There is a whole lot of meandering before the film unveils its bizarre finale, which can either be construed as an avant-garde cinematic move or a sign that the creative team just didn't know how to end the story.

Regardless, Carell (who actually just turned 42) has concocted a hilarious starring vehicle that goes far deeper than the one-joke premise suggested by the title.

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