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Issue Date:  September 9, 2005

Growing up, at whatever age

'The 40-Year-Old-Virgin' is a good guy at heart; superhero kid in 'Sky High' proves himself


In this summer of movie discontent, one quickly learns to avoid blockbusters and wonders if Hollywood will ever rediscover how to make a romantic comedy. Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, written in collaboration with former “Daily Show” correspondent Steve Carrell, doesn’t really fill the bill, with its penis jokes and bodily fluids humor. But Mr. Carrell plays Andy Stitzer, the title character, as such a likeably insecure salesman that the film is more good-natured than gross.

A moralist might note that none of its makers seems to have had a bachelor uncle who believed casual sex was morally wrong. In fairness, however, the script makes clear that while Andy’s coworkers in an electronics store find his condition ludicrous and go to great lengths to “help him out,” they have their own difficulties with both sex and romance. David (Paul Rudd) has sworn off women after being dumped by his girlfriend; Jay (Romany Malco) still plays the field despite having a longtime girlfriend; and Cal (Seth Rogen) is always looking for sexual escapades in the wrong places. When they discover Andy’s secret, they try to set him up with easy conquests, all of which naturally end up as hopeless failures. One young woman nearly kills them both by driving drunkenly through crowded streets; then she scares him away again when they reach her home.

Fortunately he stumbles by himself into a more human relationship with Trish (the delightful Catherine Keener), a single mother who seems genuinely to care for him. His pals, of course, tell him not to see her until he’s had sexual encounters with women he doesn’t like.

Much of the comedy is taken up with painful moments in Andy’s sexual past or with the ludicrous attempt by his friends to make his hairy body more attractive through a painful waxing process. In the interest of journalistic accuracy, I must report that the audience, including many young women, seemed to find such scenes hilarious.

Fortunately, after Andy’s fumbling failures to put on a condom during a hectic sequence interrupted by the arrival of two of Trish’s children, the movie shifts from sex to romance. With Andy helping Trish’s teenage daughter through a group therapy session, his basic decency is seen to outshine his eccentricity. Trish doesn’t yet know Andy’s “guilty” secret, however, and they decide the culmination of their relationship should not come before 20 dates. This process may not show the couple getting to know one another deeply, but it does help to suggest the range of Mr. Carrell’s acting ability.

Some attempts at humor seem forced, as if Mr. Carrell and the director are trying too hard, but a brief exchange between Andy and his woman boss, who promotes him and makes clear she is willing to help him overcome his “problem,” is done with confident expertise. The ending of this flawed but amusing movie is hardly a surprise, but the director gives it a nice sense of fantasy, the whole cast dancing and singing exuberantly to the music of “Hair.”

Sky High is a Walt Disney comedy about a young would-be hero, Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), about to attend a secret prep school on what looks like a large flying saucer above the clouds. Director Mike Mitchell obviously hopes to attract Harry Potter fans, but drowns any potential magic in overactive special effects and obvious moralizing.

The movie almost redeems itself by gently mocking Will’s superhero parents, Commander Stronghold (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). “All I ever wanted,” the father laments when he learns that Will has been put with the Sidekicks rather than the Heroes at Sky High, “was for him to save the world.”

He will get his comeuppance, because an old enemy disguised as a senior, Gwen Grayson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), will almost succeed in a sinister plot to turn all the school’s heroes into babies she will train to be villains. But in its goodhearted if lame-brained way, “Sky High” has Will discover his late-emerging powers and the Sidekicks unite to help him foil the plot and save the school. Each is able to use their small powers -- glowing, turning into a puddle or changing shape -- thus reinforcing the lesson that each of us has a talent we should employ to the fullest.

Some of the character changes are confusing -- for instance, the transformation of Warren Peace from a flame-throwing destructive force into Will’s defender -- but the goodheartedness of the friendship among the young people almost saves the movie. And though all the young women are too pretty in the luscious Hollywood manner, Will’s friend Layla (Daniele Panabaker), whom he almost betrays, has substance. Remarkably for this movie, her powers, which she has consistently used only when it was helpful for others, fit her character. We see her quietly reviving flowers and admiring natural beauty; only when Will is seriously threatened does she turn on the juice, hurling thick powerful tendrils that imprison the attackers on the ceiling. The two will make a suitable generational replacement for Will’s parents, but I hope they don’t make a movie out of it.

Joseph Cunneen is NCR’s regular movie reviewer. His e-mail is

National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 2005

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