Steve Carell is so convincing as the no-action-getting title character of Judd Apatow's bawdy masterpiece “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” one suspects that his performance is at least partly autobiographical.
Formerly of “The Daily Show” and two scene-stealing supporting performances in “Bruce Almighty” and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” Carell is a master of the forced laugh, the strained show of brio and the bolt-upright mope. He projects the weird touch-me-not energy typical of someone who, quite frankly, hasn't been touched.
That's sadly the case with Andy Stitzer (Carell), a middle-aged electronics superstore shipping clerk so immune to social expectations that his big weekend plans consist of staying home and whipping up a really killer egg salad sandwich. Andy's not-so-dirty little secret is revealed on a rare night out with the guys from work, when — unable to contribute any raunchy sex stories to the conversation — Andy resorts to 2 Live Crew lyrics and painfully transparent lies such as “Oh, yeah! I get down with sex all the time!”
Andy's nonexistent sexual history quickly becomes the stuff of workplace legend, compelling his co-workers/confessors (who previously regarded him with a mixture of suspicion and indifference) to make his deflowering their top priority. Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen are riotous as Andy's foul-minded muses, helping him pack a lifetime of dating disasters into one convulsively hilarious hourlong scrum of romantic futility. Andy gets befouled by a DUI she-devil (Leslie Mann from “The Cable Guy”), body-waxed to the point where he speaks in profanity-laced tongues (Carell actually sacrificed his chest hair for this scene; we feel his pain) and dragged to one of those two-minute speed-dating seminars. Like you haven't been there.
It would be a crime to clump Andy with the Deuce Bigalows of the world, a one-trick skit-reject. In fact, he's an ingeniously conceived romantic hero, brought fully to life by Apatow (the “Freaks and Geeks” creator, here making his feature directing debut) and co-screenwriter Carell.
Andy's intact virginity isn't the product of religious devotion (although this could be the one R-rated sex comedy that passes muster with the family values crowd) or an aversion to human contact, but an overactive self-denial mechanism, the same one that — as a child — prevented him from opening the dozens of vintage “Star Wars” and “Six Million Dollar Man” action figure boxes that now dominate his apartment, a menagerie of arrested development. It's why he rides a bike to work and is incapable of taking a drunken leak in public. (With the help of his co-worker spirit guides, Andy conquers the latter taboo, in a moment of soaring man-triumph).
In other words, Andy is a genuinely pure, untainted person, itself something of a perversion in today's been-there, done-you dating scene. Still, we don't flinch even for a second when Andy strikes up something nice with an upbeat divorcee (Catherine Keener from “Being John Malkovich”) who isn't the least put off by his eccentricities.
Calling “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” the funniest American comedy since
“Office Space” (1999) is no mere blurb-offering. Like Mike Judge's cubicle-themed cult classic, “Virgin” trains a sharp eye on the soul-smothering inanities of the workplace. (Rudd has a brilliant — and so true! — bit involving the Michael McDonald DVD that loops endlessly on the showroom floor.)
Moreover, you will not find a movie more distinctly American in its “I Love the '90s”-style Zen-communion with kitsch and nostalgia. From the Space Ghost magnet on Andy's fridge to the “Greatest American Hero” theme music that Apatow impishly sneaks onto the soundtrack, “Virgin” is of an age.
‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin'
Starring: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen
Rating: R (pervasive sexual content, profanity and some drug use)
Running time: 120 minutes
Playing: Opens Friday in Valley theaters