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Raunchy ‘40-Year-Old Virgin’ misses the mark

Director Judd Apatow unsuccessfully tries to turn Steve Carell into Adam Sandler. By John Hartl

As chaste as it may sound, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is the raunchiest two-hour comedy since “There’s Something About Mary.” Double entendres do turn up here and there, but for the most part the movie is loud, crude and tastelessly obvious.

Steve Carell, so delightfully mischievous in his correspondent reports for Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” does bring a measure of freshness to the title character: Andy Stitzer, a nerdy electronics-store employee who is so distant and friendless that his fellow workers suspect he’s a serial killer.

When they get to know him better, they discover that he’s just never had sex with a woman, and they decide to initiate him. Trouble is, the co-workers are not exactly experts in love. David (Paul Rudd) is obsessed with a woman who dumped him. Cal (Seth Rogen) hides behind a slobby exterior, while Jay (Romany Malco, Rudd’s co-star in “The Chateau”) is a bundle of frequently misplaced energy.

They first throw Andy into the arms of a party girl and drunk driver (Leslie Mann) who upchucks most of her shellfish sandwich on him. This does not lead to a deflowering, and neither do Andy’s first dates with a seductive bookstore clerk (Elizabeth Banks) or a sexy grandmother (scene-stealing Catherine Keener).

But he definitely establishes a rapport with the grandmother, and when they fall for each other — it’s essentially love at first sight — you expect the movie to wrap up soon. Unfortunately, it has another hour to go, and it’s a long slog to the finish line.

While “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” has its sweet and goofy moments, including an exuberant musical finale borrowed from “Hair,” it’s often as single-minded as an adolescent flipping through Playboy. The script, written by Carell and director Judd Apatow, is curiously inconclusive and frequently preposterous.

One long sequence revolves around David’s sacrificial delivery of his favorite porn tapes to Andy, but the episode drifts off without a punchline. Several scenes demonstrate the incompetence of the store’s employees, who usually outnumber the customers, yet they land promotions and praise. Instead of getting fired, David gets a day off for gross misbehavior.

Carell often seems to be playing Andy as a split personality who moves from innate shyness to focused rage in an instant. Perhaps this is meant to suggest that, once his co-workers liberate him from his defeatist philosophy (“I respect women so much that I keep away from them”), Andy locates his inner id. This certainly lends a welcome unpredictability to the character, who develops a knack for corny pickup lines and hanging out with the guys.

It also suggests that the movie is driven by a writer-director team who have lost control of what they’re doing. Apatow directed several episodes of the irrepressibly original television series, “Freaks and Geeks,” but here he appears to be turning Carell into Adam Sandler, complete with anger-management issues. Every time Andy blows his top, you just have to wonder where THAT came from.