Life is full of new experiences, and Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" brought one to me: the chance to see a man getting his chest waxed, in close-up. Whether this new experience made me a better person is debatable; whether actor/co-writer Steve Carell (who has said in interviews that the waxing scene, complete with shrieks and droplets of blood, was not faked) was similarly enriched is even more so.
Nonetheless, this scene — which is drawn out for so long you can practically see his chest hairs grow back again — is the comic centerpiece of "Virgin," which could have been a very funny 80-minute movie, except that it's trapped in a not-quite-so-funny two-hour movie. There are laughs, to be sure, and lots of little character bits that work very well; but in between, there's padding, and empty dialogue, and an ending that takes an eternity. Between this movie and "Wedding Crashers," you can't help but wonder — are directors of Hollywood comedies being paid by the minute these days?
Anyway, you don't need to be a rocket scientist, or a waxer, to know what this movie's about: Carell, his hair neatly combed and his polo shirts precisely buttoned, plays — you guessed it — a 40-year-old virgin, named Andy Stitzer. He's a rather sweet fellow who enjoys playing the tuba, collecting action figures (in the original packaging, so as to maximize their value) and chatting with his colleagues at Smart Tech, the electronics superstore where he works.
But there's something odd in the way he awkwardly joins the after-work guy banter. "Oh, yeah," he says, in a tone just this side of Austin Powers, telling his co-workers how he likes to "get down with sex all the time." Carell's delivery is very funny here; his voice elaborately casual, his wording carefully chosen but entirely, terribly wrong. Quickly the guys figure it out: There's a virgin in their midst, and they immediately plot to remedy the situation.
And off we go through the raunchy-romantic-comedy cliché machine: the vomit scene, the speed-dating, the condom problems, the drunk driving, the foul-mouthed buddies. Apatow has assembled a fine comedic cast, and they bring freshness to some of this: Paul Rudd has a goofball energy as lovelorn David; Seth Rogen is droopily deadpan as slacker Cal. And the wonderfully dry Catherine Keener, as Andy's love interest Trish, single-handedly raises the movie's believability quotient. The screenwriters never get around to telling us why this smart, lovely woman would have any interest in dweeby Andy, but Keener performs with such naturalness and conviction, you almost buy it.
That's where "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" disarms us — it is, at its heart, a sweet-natured romantic comedy. Unfortunately, you have to clear away a fair bit of debris to find that heart. If you stick it out to the end, though, you'll be rewarded with perhaps the most random musical number ever to hit celluloid. It's sung and danced with great flair (if not great technique) by the cast, and it's so much fun I was almost tempted to forgive "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" its flaws. Almost, but not quite.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com