- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

Judd Apatow’s “40 Year-Old Virgin” wasn’t just the best comedy of 2005. Along with “The Wedding Crashers,” it redefined the R-rated comedy as a date movie: plenty of low-brow, frat-house antics for him, ultimately redeemed by a sweetly reassuring, love-conquers-all message for her.

Mr. Apatow’s “Knocked Up” repeats — with refinements of its own — the successful formula.

“Grey’s Anatomy’s” Katherine Heigl plays Alison, a young production assistant at E! Entertainment who dreams of an on-camera role. She earns that very promotion at the cable outlet, minutes after Ryan Seacrest deftly punctures his own image in a winning cameo.

Alison celebrates her good news with her married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) at a trendy night club. A few drinks later, she meets Ben (Seth Rogen), a likable lug who spends his days toking up with his roommates and creating a soft-porn Web site.

Improbably, the two hit it off, and they end up together for a night of inebriated passion.

The next day they go their separate ways, seemingly for good since they have nothing in common beside a hangover.

A few weeks later, Alison starts getting sick at work and realizes she is, gulp, pregnant. She invites Ben to dinner to break the news. He can’t believe it. She quickly dismisses thoughts of aborting the baby, a point not belabored here.

They may be polar opposites, but they realize they need each other for the baby’s sake. In scenes that manage to be both refreshing and real, they start getting to know each other, and slowly a romantic flame flickers.

Debbie’s strained marriage to Pete (Paul Rudd, the hardest working man in comedy and perhaps the least appreciated) makes Alison and Ben’s bonding experiment even harder.

All the while, Ben looks for wisdom from his ne’er-do-well friends — who collectively are almost as funny as the troupe from “Virgin” — and his father (director Harold Ramis in an avuncular cameo).

Mr. Apatow doesn’t rely on elaborate set pieces for laughs. The humor erupts from the dialogue and tight interplay between the leads and some terrific supporting players. His brand of comedy, at least on the films he both writes and directs, is confident, clever and very relatable.

That said, audiences won’t fully buy Alison and Ben’s relationship, even though both actors bring out the best in Mr. Apatow’s wild and witty script. And no matter how winning “Knocked Up” may be, two-hour comedies are rarely a good idea. Glaringly expendable is a preposterous extended sequence in which Debbie tails her husband, whom she suspects of infidelity.

Comparisons between “Virgin” and “Knocked Up” are inevitable, so let’s tally up the score.

“Virgin” is funnier and demands repeat viewings. “Knocked Up” boasts a bigger heart, and its relationships are more complex and harder to define.

Both traffic in crude sexual humor but somehow find enough warmth in the yuks to temper the offensiveness.

That might not be good enough for the PG-13 crowd, but “Knocked Up” never cozies up to that demographic.

If that sounds like a pragmatic approach to titillate teens while assuaging family values groups, so be it. Mr. Apatow is so good at juggling it’s hard to view the finished product with cynicism.

***1/2

TITLE: “Knocked Up”

RATING: R (Nudity, sexual situations, adult humor and language, drug use and mature themes)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Judd Apatow.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

WEB SITE: www.knockedupmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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