Movie review by Greg Carlson
Superior in nearly every way to previous outing “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” is the rare comedy that gets to have its cake and eat it too. Appealing to both stoners/slackers in search of a devilishly crude set of bawdy jokes and the audience seeking the liquid center of heartfelt, feel-good romantic warmth, “Knocked Up” is at home in both camps. Apatow’s stock company, used more effectively than in any of his projects since “Freaks and Geeks,” continues to operate like a well-oiled machine and the writing is as pointed as ever.
In his first role as a leading man, Seth Rogen plays Ben Stone, a responsibility-free loafer with only a vague idea of a possible career trajectory. It’s a bit of a stretch to think that Ben would not already be intimately familiar with the Mr. Skin website, but he and a quartet of housemates, including Apatow regulars Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Jay Baruchel, and Jonah Hill, dream about providing an internet service that directs like-minded fanboys to nude scenes in their favorite movies. Ben’s carefree lifestyle undergoes a major change following a one-night stand with Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), who discovers herself pregnant several weeks after her encounter with Ben.
Nobody is going to believe for a second that Ben would stand a ghost of a chance with the way out-of-his-league Alison, but in Apatow’s world the charm is pitched at just the right angle to allow one’s suspension of disbelief. Heigl is every bit as good as Rogen, and the two have a wary chemistry that shores up the incredulity of the beauty-and-the-bong partnership. Heigl is also abetted by Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, who plays her sister, and Paul Rudd as her brother in law. As a young married couple with kids, Mann and Rudd serve as much needed counterpoint to the quartet of lotus eaters who serve as Ben’s support system. In another sweet bit of casting, Harold Ramis plays Ben’s dad and Joanna Kerns plays Alison’s mom, although both might have been given just a bit more screen time.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive critical response, “Knocked Up” is not without its deficits. The nature of the loose adlibbing fosters too many highly topical pop culture references that will date the movie in just a few months. “Spider-Man 3,” for example, gets name-checked at least once too often. Additionally, the last third of the movie, while remaining as funny as what precedes it, is occasionally unwieldy and unfocused. Contributing to an unnecessarily long running time, this indecisiveness makes one a bit antsy for the story’s inevitable outcomes.
Apatow’s frank, almost matter-of-fact presentation of seemingly disparate elements conveys a certain freshness unheard of in similarly themed comedies. “Knocked Up” is just the sort of movie that will reveal new layers of humor with multiple screenings. No matter how fleeting the role, the supporting players, including Charlyne Yi as Martin’s spaced-out girlfriend, Ken Jeong as Dr. Kuni, and Kristen Wiig and Alan Tudyk as Alison’s clueless E! TV bosses, are all spot-on. Better than any of the blockbuster sequels with which it is competing, “Knocked Up” is one of the summer’s most enjoyable movies.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/4/07.