That Funny Vagina!

The team behind '40 Year Old Virgin' finds more comedy gold

You know what's funny? Images of a baby's head coming out of a woman's genitals. At least that's one of the visual gags in Knocked Up, the first movie I've ever seen that tries to get laughs from a close-up shot of a vagina.

I can't say it actually works, but then not everything is going to work in this world. For the most part, though, Knocked Up is reasonably funny, if tremendously predictable and a little bit afraid of taking risks.

This latest outing from writer/director Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman, Talladega Nights) stars Seth Rogen as Ben Stone, a stoner who likes to get stoned while smoking marijuana. His father (the beatific Harold Ramis) was also a stoner, and someday, Ben hopes to have little stoner children rolling him spliffs as he sits by the hearth tousling their ganga-scented hair.

In pursuit of this goal, and in spite of his chubby loserishness, Ben manages to have sex with a woman who is so much prettier than he that, if there were a beauty contest featuring the pair and the yawning abyss of meaning that threatens to devour all hope and life, he'd come in third. And thus begins a tremendously standard romantic-comedy plot, with the boy meeting and losing and regaining and etc. the girl.

At first, Knocked Up is afraid to have a plot, because plots are tense and make us feel bad. So against all odds, the boy gets and then keeps the girl. Then after an hour or so, the movie goes, "Huh, if there isn't some tension between these two, then I'm just a collection of scenes of people being happy, and if the Iraq war has taught us anything, it's that no one wants to see that." So then the plot starts, but it's the plot that we knew was coming, so it's not so hard on our feelings, because we already pretty much ran through the whole thing in our heads. Then, just to be safe, the movie resolves the plot in about 15 minutes, and everyone is happy again. So Knocked Up is a kind movie, and it doesn't want to hurt your feelings, but it does want you to see a vagina with a head coming out of it.

The upside of Knocked Up is the dialogue, which is pretty much the stuff that Rogen and Paul Rudd did in The 40 Year Old Virgin, only now they're doing it without Steve Carell standing behind them with an erection. The shtick is interesting, though, because you can tell it marks a comic idiom that's terribly time-specific. It's like when you watch an old Seinfeld, and you realize that people used to actually talk like that. I'm pretty sure that'll be the experience of watching Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin in 10 years.

Rogen's lumpy comic style is great in second-banana roles, but he can't quite carry a lead. By about halfway through the film, he's run through his entire repertoire of shrugs and puppy-dog faces, and then he just repeats them for the second half of the film, and you're all, "Didn't he just make that face?" and yes, he did.

Strangely, Katherine Heigl is pretty good as the attractive woman. The film focuses much more on Rogen, even going so far as to show his hairy butt and not her presumably clean-shaven one, but in many scenes, she outshines him just by virtue of the fact that she's acting while he's mugging.

But I guess with the cancellation of The King of Queens, According to Jim, Still Standing, Grounded for Life and The Drew Carey Show, America needed some outlet for its intense desire to see fat guys with hot chicks, and Rogen is at least as amusingly chubby as Jim Belushi or Mark Addy.

And there are a lot of reasons to recommend this film: It includes ads for Spider-Man 3, the "Mr. Skin" Web site and the Treo cell phone; there are blatant depictions of drug use; and much of the film occurs in gynecologists' offices, an area of previously untapped comic potential.

Plus, the supporting cast is excellent. Paul Rudd, who should be getting more leads, has a diamond-edged perfection in the delivery of his lines; Kristen Wiig does her Saturday Night Live shtick with understated hilarity; and Craig Robinson of The Office has a creepy and touching role as a club bouncer who regrets that he must keep out the "old chicks" who he himself would most dearly love to "tap."

Anyway, it's unfair to judge this kind of film on the plot's originality (since it has none) or the effectiveness of its dramatic effects (since they're simplistic and manipulative). Instead, Knocked Up's audience is looking for laughs, and those burst out of it like a human being exiting a birth canal, which is to say, forcefully and while covered in mucus.