Now that the influential success of Wedding Crashers has made it safe for R-rated comedies to corrupt us with gleeful raunch, along comes The 40-Year-Old Virgin to claim its share of the pie. Cut it a big fat slice. A howlingly comic revel in bad taste, it still finds time to make you feel good about Andy Stitzer, the carnally innocent hero of this bawdy bedtime story. Steve Carell, best known as a team player on The Daily Show, The Office and movies such as Anchorman, earns top-banana status as Andy. He is flat-out hilarious. See him wake up with morning wood and pee in his own face. Hear him talk to his collectible action figures; he repaints them on weekends when he's not making the perfect egg-salad sandwich. Watch him try to fake macho with his co-workers at a Smart Tech store by saying that when you touch a woman's breast, it feels like sand.
That nails it. He's a virgin, and the guys -- Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Romany Malco could not be funnier -- spend the rest of the movie trying to find a woman to bus his cherry. They tell him to act tough, "like David Caruso in Jade" -- a line for true connoisseurs of junk video. But sex freak Beth (Elizabeth Banks) and a drunk Nicky (Leslie Mann) scare him off. A speed-dating session is attempted, as is an ouch of a chest-hair waxing. (Carell did it for real; you can see the blood beading to the surface of his skin.) But Andy sets a more daunting task for himself than getting laid: finding one woman, building a relationship and making it stick. He name is Trish, a divorced mom of three and the grandma of one. The terrific Catherine Keener plays her with such sexy warmth that this cinematic stag party, loaded with "know how I know you're gay" jokes and wicked jabs at male dysfunction, actually grows a heart.
Don't panic. The script, which Carell wrote with first-time director Judd Apatow, keeps firing off rude, raucous laughs. Apatow deserves to have his butt kissed in perpetuity for Freaks and Geeks and The Larry Sanders Show, and what he doesn't yet grasp about framing a scene he makes up for with his intuitive grasp of the architecture of a joke. Know how I know that Apatow has a big future making movie comedies? Because he knows that laughs fly higher and wilder when the characters keep it real. Without that, it's all Deuce Bigalow.