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Monday, June 4, 2007

"Knocked Up" a Knockout

Judd "40-Year Old Virgin" Apatow's new comedy Knocked Up cements the writer/director's winning streak and shows that he is one of the most creative comic minds working in the film industry today. The not-so-secret ingredient is a solid screenplay with set beats for each scene and for the film as a whole. When improv occurs, it feeds the plot and the characters and no scene feels like it hangs out there for the sake of a pointless gag (unlike Anchorman, a film Apotow produced but did not direct.) He keeps the rom sophisticated and the com raunchy until the lines between the two mean less and less.

Knocked Up stars Seth Rogen, a member in good standing of Apatow's informal troupe, as Ben Stone, slacker extraordinaire. He and his pot-smoking buddies don't work per se, they merely keep pushing an unlikely plan for a website that intends to chronicle in great detail when in a mainstream movie nudity occurs and whether that nudity is full or partial. He and his buddies allow Apatow to show off the kind of rapid-fire male camaraderie his films revel and excel in.

Rogen gets lucky one night with Alison Scott, an employee at E! who just made it to a coveted on-air position. Casting of Katherine Heigl as Scott is perfect. She's pretty and put together without being nasty, and she can be sweet without being a dumb-ass. She's way out of Rogen's league but you believe that they might be able to click.

As you've probably deduced from the title, that one night stand leads to a potential 9-month issue and Ben and Alison have to decide what to do and if they should try to build a relationship with each other just because Alison is in a family way.

Alison lives with her sister and brother-in-law, played to perfection by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd. They are locked in a marriage full of tension, with two adorable kids and lots of free floating angst. Mann, the real-life Mrs. Apatow and a standout as Steve Carell's drunken pickup in 40-Year Old Virgin, nails her part. She is tough without being a shrew, and Rudd just floats around trying not to be hit by the verbal and emotional shrapnel.

If there is a weak spot its that Heigl's character is a little underdeveloped -- we never really know why she decides to keep the baby though her bitchy mother's (played with a blithe nastiness by Joanna Kerns) negative reaction ("Take care of it...") gives us a little hint. Speaking of parents, Harold Ramis is wonderful as Rogen's father, and the scenes with them sparkle with real feeling and humor.

Essentially it's the grounding in reality that allows Apatow's films to tickle us so hard, and there are several scenes here that play deadly serious, only to evolve into a laugh or vice-versa. That's a rare trick to get right and Knocked Up does it in spades, from bong hits to graphic birth. The funniest comedy of the year so far nets five out of five baby heads:

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