Dir: Judd Apatow. US.2005. 116mins.

Marking the featuredirecting debut of acclaimed TV comedy writer Judd Apatow and the featurestarring debut of in-demand comic actor Steve Carell, The 40 Year-Old Virginis a sex comedy that's sweet-natured one minute, enthusiastically raunchy thenext and sporadically very funny. Relatively subtle and character-driven by sexcomedy standards, it's likely to appeal more to youngish, been-there-done-thatadults than to the genre's usual audience of horny teens.

The Universal productionopens wide in the US this week, in a late-summer slot that has worked well forcomparable pictures such as American Wedding, Anchorman: The Legendof Ron Burgundy and this year's Wedding Crashers. In fact, thefilm's biggest domestic hurdle, besides its lesser-known cast, will becompetition from a rash of similarly targeted studio and independent comedies,among them Wedding Crashers, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo andthe documentray The Artistocrats.

Competition may not be asstiff in the international marketplace, where UIP will roll Virgin outbetween now and December. But the cast will be even less recognizable outsidethe US and the comedy may not be broad enough for the film to appeal as widelyas, for example, the American Pie movies.

With director and star alsodoing duty as co-writers, it's hardly surprising that the movie isstylistically in tune with other projects from Apatow (who recently moved onfrom writing cult TV series like The Larry Sanders Show and FreaksAnd Geeks to producing features, including the aforementioned Anchorman)and Carell (known in the US for cable's The Daily Show and the localversion of The Office, and more widely for notable appearances inAnchorman and Bruce Almighty).

Carell is hilariouslydeadpan as title character Andy Stitzer, a shy loner who's more comfortablewith his collection of vintage action figures than with women. When Andyinadvertently reveals his virginity to his co-workers at a suburban electronicsstore, the guys - as well as the store's older female manager - set out to helpAndy achieve the dirty deed.

The quest involves a lot ofsex advice from Andy's much more experienced buddies and a series of disastrousdates. The sex talk - some of it coming from unlikely mouths - is funny in itsown, over-the-top dumb male way. But the biggest laughs come from the film'sset pieces, among them a speed dating session and Andy's excruciating attemptto get his chest hair waxed.

Later on, the story becomesmore character-driven and touches on the love lives of Andy's pals, especiallythe handsome but embittered David (played by the versatile Rudd, another Anchormancast member). The film's sweetness comes to the fore when Andy starts a genuinerelationship with Trish (Keener, from Being John Malkovich), a friendlysingle mother. Bringing a female point of view to the story, the relationshipshould help broaden Virgin's appeal, but it also takes away some of thefilm's comic momentum.

Lapses in momentum and lackof narrative flow are in fact the film's major weaknesses. As funny as theyare, the set pieces sometimes go on a little too long. And the gaps betweenthem sometimes feel like aimless interludes.

Besides the always watchableKeener and Rudd, the film's strong supporting cast also includes Malco (from TheChateau) and Rogen (from Freaks And Geeks and Anchorman), whoare both consistently funny as Andy's other co-workers.
Production companies
Universal Pictures
Apatow Productions

US distribution

International distribution

Executive producers
Steve Carell
Jon Poll

Judd Apatow
Clayton Townsend
Shauna Robertson

Judd Apatow
Steve Carell

Jack Green

Production design
Jackson deGovia

Brent White

Lyle Workman

Main cast
Steve Carell
Catherine Keener
Paul Rudd
Romany Malco
Seth Rogen