Knocked Up

A two-hour-plus summer comedy, Judd Apatow's “Knocked Up” is a mixed blessing, funny and witty in long stretches, while draggy and indulgent in several others. Latest film from the talented writer-director suffers in comparison with his previous, uproarious funny comedy, “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin,” as well as with that summer's other raunchy comedy, “The Wedding Crashers.”

In addition to overextending its welcome by at least half an hour, “Knocked Up” is a high-concept movie that's hampered by structural problems as well as uneven acting. While you admire Apatow's offbeat casting, placing center stage character actors like Seth Rogen (who was second banana in “40-Year-Old Virgin,” Rogen is no Steve Carellor Vince Vaughn for that matter. Even more problematic is casting Leslie Mann (Apathow's wife) in one of the two female leads, and giving her some of the film's smartest lines.

This comedy is an honorable but not great big-screen showcase for Katherine Heigl, so far mostly known for her superb work in TV's hottest ensemble drama, “Grey's Anatomy.” The verdict is out there whether Heigl would become a major star after this movie. (I have doubts).

Universal will release Apatow's comedy June 1, in the midst of big-budget actioners and adventures that are more youth-oriented. Commercially, if my reading is right, “Knocked Up” is a mid-range blockbuster, more in the vicinity $100 than 200 million.

To be sure, there are clever monologues, rowdy dialogue, and one-liner bound to enter movie loreas when a gynecologist examines Heigl's genitals and nonchalantly observes, “You do look like your sister.” “Knocked Up” is a movie that's hard and hip on the edge, but soft and mainstream at the center, ending as one of the best treatises Hollywood has made about embracing traditional family values. Does the comedy pander to the twentysomething and thirtysomething viewers (its primary demo target) about to start their own families Or does it honestly reflect the value system of Aptos as a married man and father

“Knocked Up” begins extremely well with a funny premise. Portage is Ben Stone (Rouen), an underemployed Canadian slacker, who likes his daily pot, doesn't mind about his dwindling bank account (based on compensation), and enjoys his male comrades with whom he shares a shabby residence, where they trades off joints around the pool as well as bathroom jokes and bodily functions (one or two scenes pay tribute to the Farrelly brothers).

On the other pole of the socio-economic spectrum is Alison Scott (Heigl), an ambitious, upscale single woman, who's close to her married step-sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd), and their two daughters, who function as a role modelsort of.

Out on the town one night, Alison and Ben meet at a chic and cool Los Angeles club. In high spirits, having just landed her first on-camera job for E! Entertainment TV, she accepts Ben's invitation to drink and dance. A casual chat and friendly embrace leads to spending the night together, while both are tipsy. Though soaked with alcohol, Alison insists that Ben uses a condom. When the poor guy, who has not been laid for a while, takes too long in applying the contraceptive, an overheated Alison exclaims, “Just do it!” which he innocently interprets as something like, forget about the condo before we both lose it.

First reel's set-up is replete with clever lines. Hence, when Ben gets his first look at the nude Alison, he notes with disbelief: “You're prettier than I am!” In contrast, the next morning, Alison observes with slight disgust and self-contempt Ben's large butt. Do you blame her She's sexy, attractive, well-dressed, and driven; he's a chubby slob, devoid of any ambition or goal in life but survive the day with the least amount of effort.

Asking whether the two can ultimately connect is like asking if Christmas is in December Even so, Ben and Alison split with no further dates planned. Cut to a few weeks later, when Alison feels nauseous and throws up at the studio all over her colleagues. Could she be pregnant after a presumably careful one-night stand There are no doubts who the partner is, since Ben is the only man Alison had slept with in months.

At first Ben, a layabout if there ever was one, is shocked by the news. He and his buddiesall eccentric types (played by Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel and Martin Starr)have been trying (not too hard) to launch a “business,” a website called “Flash of the Stars,” whose unique angle is measuring the seconds and minutes it takes for celebs to expose their skin. To that extent, they watch all kinds of trashy pictures, including some lesbian porno.

You would expect an upwardly mobile femme like Alison to go for abortion, but lo and behold, she decides to keep the baby and raise it as a single mom. At first, afraid of losing her job, Alison conceals her pregnancy with the help of the station's resourceful costume designer.

One thing leads to another and Alison and Ben begin to dateno commitment yet, just hanging out and having fun together. But curiously they find themselves visiting stores that specialize in baby books, baby clothes and cribs, which they can't afford financially.

Apatow is shrewd enough to know that his duo-centric chronicle is barely sufficient for a serviceable comedy, so he begins to pile up obstacles, complications, and misunderstanding. As a structuring device, the yarn is divided into chapters like “4 Weeks Later,” and “14 Weeks Later,” but not symmetrically or following any logical order. Each title card is accompanied with an image of the growing fetus.

This is after all a romantic comedy, so the couple must argue and separate, so that there will be a big reconciliation at the end. Meanwhile, what do you do with the other, “ideal couple,” Debbie and Pete Well, they begin to argue, too, often in front of their young daughters, one of whom tends to google every word she overhears.

Alison has certain (maternal) expectations, wishing for Ben to get stoned less often, spend les time with his chums, read the right literature. Ben has his own (paternal) anxieties. Hard as he tries various positions, he's not comfortable having sex with his very pregnant partner. In a very funny sequence, concerned that he might squeeze the baby, Ben proposes to have sex “like dogs, but only in style.”

Film's second half is more routine and predictable, turning the saga into a coming of age of a reluctant father, a twentysomething slacker who needs to learn to take responsibility, be a “real” man, get a paying job, rent an apartment of his own, and support his wife and baby.

It's in these sections that we get some overlong and boring scenes. While a montage of gynecologists is nicely handled, others, in which the quartet splits into a male duo and female duo are not. To clear their heads, Ben and Pete go to Vegas, where Ben gets a panic attack during Cirque de Soleil performance, and Pete get to deliver an unfunny monologue about hotel's five different kinds of chairs. Meanwhile, control-freak Debbie and Alison go to a disco, where they're humiliatingly rejected as “too old” and “pregnant.” Debbie's monologue here reproaching the black bouncer begins well but falls flat at the end.

Obviously a gifted filmmaker (at this point, better as a writer than director), Apatow tries to balance the madcap farce with softer and more romantic element.

But he lacks technique and visual style. “Knock Up” would have benefited from wittier physical slapstick and sight gags (the kinds of which used to decorate Blake Edwards pictures). Ultimately, with all the good will and good faith from the audience, Apatow is unable to sustain laughter, comedy, and humor for 133 minutes, and the movie begins to strain and falter.

Apatow has a good ear for profane, alert dialogue and amusing situations that make references to up-to-the-moment pop culture. Thus, in the name of hipness, one character has already seen “Spider-Man 3” (which opens May 4), another pokes fun at the lackluster Matthew Fox of “Lost,” and “E”'s real-life host Ryan Seacrest parodies himself.

In his first lead role, Rogen (also credited as exec producer) exudes charm and warmth, and he's able to show both the rough and rowdy exterior of a young man who refuses to grow up as well as the inner fears and sincere sweetness of a puppy-like youngster. If Rogen did his whining and winning shtick for 90 minutes, “Knocked Up” would have been fine and funny, but watching him (and the others) for 133 minutes is a bit trying, especially for a comedy.


MPAA Rating R
Running time: 133 minutes.

Universal release.
Apatow production.
Produced by Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson, Clayton Townsend.
Executive producers: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
Directed and written by Judd Apatow.
Cinematography: Eric Edwards.
Editors: Brent White and Craig Alpert
Music: Loudon Wainwright and Joe Henry
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Art decorator: Chris L. Spellman
Costume designer: Debra McGuire