EmptyAUSTIN -- Sex is still funny in "Knocked Up," Judd Apatow's follow-up to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" that plows the same fields -- balancing outrageousness with sentiment, pairing men-children with mature women -- without feeling at all like a retread. Although first-date couples might shy away from the subject matter, the film's appeal and particularly its word-of-mouth should be as strong as its predecessor's.
More naturalistic than "Virgin," the picture relies almost entirely on finely tuned banter. With the exception of a psychedelics-laced outing to Las Vegas, sight gags rank a far distant second with a cast that can get so much mileage out of the snarky taunt, the deadpan understatement or the out-of-left-field pop culture reference.
Seth Rogen, supplier of perfectly delivered zingers in earlier Apatow projects, moves with ease into star position here, playing an unemployed twentysomething happy to coast on a small savings until the last dollar is spent. Comfortable in the dope-clouded hovel he rents with similarly stunted buddies, he is completely mismatched for the career-minded Alison (Katherine Heigl), who shares one drunken night with him and immediately regrets it.
When he learns that she's pregnant, though, Rogen's Ben Stone is a mensch, committing to give any support Alison decides she wants. Not many couples spend their getting-to-know-you phase shopping for Baby Bjorns and cribs, but Ben is a charmer, and the film settles into a sweet, sincere mode after the dorm-room comedy that kicked things off.
Alison lives with her sister's family, affording Ben a glimpse of what he's in for if she decides to keep him around: Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife, the drunk who spewed shellfish on Steve Carell in "Virgin") play sniping spouses whose two daughters (also members of the Apatow clan) are the only thing keeping them together; in male-bonding moments with Rogen, Rudd is hilariously fatalistic about marriage. The in-laws supply some of the emotional angst a romantic comedy demands, carrying the weight, while Rogen and Heigl are still deciding whether they're a couple.
Rudd and Mann aren't the only Apatow vets on hand. From one-scene cameos to roles in Ben's stoner clan, faces familiar from "Freaks and Geeks" through "Virgin" pop up to provide the familial warmth the writer-director's fans treasure. Martin Starr and Jason Segel from "Freaks" stretch potentially one-note parts into scene stealers.
The script and marketing materials have a bit of fun with Rogen's burly build and plain face, but he's wholly believable as a guy a beautiful woman might (perhaps after an initial shock) fall for. He's also more than funny enough to carry a feature. Heigl sells her character's desperate indecision, having trouble only with a third-act spat that on the page is a little more drastic than the preceding action would suggest it should be.
It will be interesting to watch how the family-values crowd responds to the film. Should they denounce it for the crude title and sexual attitudes, hope kids see it as a terrifying cautionary tale, or be content that, having sinned, the protagonists do the right thing? Apatow's gleefully raunchy movies are, in an odd and charming way, extremely family-friendly.
Universal Pictures/Apatow Prods.
Screenwiter-director: Judd Apatow
Producers: Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson, Clayton Townsend
Executive producers: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Director of photography: Eric Alan Edwards
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Music: Joe Henry, Loudon Wainwright III
Costume designer: Debra McGuire
Editors: Craig Alpert, Brent White
Ben Stone: Seth Rogen
Alison Scott: Katherine Heigl
Debbie: Leslie Mann
Pete: Paul Rudd
Jason: Jason Segel
Martin: Martin Starr
Jay: Jay Baruchel
Jonah: Jonah Hill
Running time -- 132 minutes
MPAA rating: R