Laughs don't stop with 'Knocked Up'


Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up."

Universal Pictures
Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Welcome to the new look in screen masculinity: Frizzy-haired. Flabby around the middle. Pasty-skinned.

Doesn't sound like a package that will give Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt any sleepless nights. But here's the thing: Seth Rogen's performance in "Knocked Up" is so funny, sweet and charming that he makes nebbish sexy.

Don't be surprised if thousands of American women leave the theater wondering, "Now why can't I find a guy like that?"

"Knocked Up" is the latest from writer/director Judd Apatow, who a couple of years back gave us the hit comedy "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

As he did with "Virgin," Apatow here pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of making the profane, gross and crude seem somehow endearing. There's something in the Apatow style that makes palatable material that in the hands of other directors would be tasteless and off-putting.

And it doesn't hurt that he and his players (most of whom he's worked with before and who improvise extensively) crank out fall-out-of-your-chair-funny dialogue.

Alison ("Gray's Anatomy's" Katherine Heigl) is a young producer with the E! cable network who just got the good news that she's being promoted to on-camera personality. She's so excited that this normally conservative young woman celebrates by hitting the clubs with her married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann).

Alison begins dancing with the first friendly guy she encounters, an unshaven slacker named Ben (Rogen). They drink, they dance, they drink some more. The schlubby Ben- who looks like a young, unkempt Peter Ustinov - is obviously thrilled to find a pretty girl who'll tolerate him. Later that night they fall drunkenly into his bed.

Result: Pregnancy. And so begins a princess-and-the-frog romance.

It's not a match made in heaven. Alison is an ambitious career woman desperate to keep her pregnancy secret lest it mess up her new gig. Ben's life's work is building a Web site that will specialize in nude photos of celebrities.

Faced with impending fatherhood, Ben goes through the usual stages of grief before rising to the occasion - a big step for a guy who is himself a very large child.

Alison experiences her own emotional trajectory, from dismay and alarm to something genuinely unexpected.

Apatow occasionally veers away from the Ben/Alison plot to delve into Debbie's marriage to Pete (Paul Rudd). They're going through the young parent doldrums - too much work, not enough sex. Debbie fears she's lost her inner fox and frets that Pete's having an affair.

There are even little subplots involving Ben's dorky roomies - Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Martin Starr - dateless doofusses who have the temerity to dish romantic advice to their overwhelmed pal.

The abundant humor in "Knocked Up" is almost never jokey. Rather it's reactive, born of the characters and situations, and seems to spring spontaneously from the character's mouths. There really aren't that many "funny lines" to be quoted.

Nevertheless, I cannot recall a recent comedy that had me laughing harder or more often. Astonishingly, "Knocked Up" has a running time of more than two hours, and while it could definitely use some pruning, the movie never gets the bloated feel of so many current films, which don't know when to quit.

Technically the movie is merely workmanlike, with washed-out cinematography and TV sitcom setups. But once the laughs start coming, little else matters.

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