by Joel Smith & r & The 40-Year-Old Virgin & r & The genesis of this film, according to co-star Paul Rudd, is the scene, about 15 minutes into the movie, where Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) falls into sex talk with his co-workers, who are exchanging lurid stories about past flings. When it comes time for Andy to tell all, it becomes hilariously clear that he has no idea what he's talking about. When he exults in how women's breasts feel like bags of sand, everyone at the table knows: He's a virgin.

That scene first played out at Chicago's famed Second City comedy club, during Carell's early days in the business. It went over so well that he hung onto it, eventually stretching it out into this two-hour film.

Which is kind of the problem -- the movie's got all the stretch marks of a gag gone on too long.

The premise is simple: Andy Stitzer is a virgin at 40. It's not as if he hasn't tried to get laid, but after a few dismal attempts at it when he was younger, it became the albatross around his neck. The longer he went without it, the harder it became to pursue it until, he says, he just gave up.

To make things worse, he's hopelessly square. Every interior shot of his apartment is crammed with shelves full of collectible action figures, still in the plastic. He meticulously pre-schedules every day. He plays video games and the sousaphone by himself. And like Brick Tamland, the character Carell played in Anchorman, Andy is clueless, sweet and without guile.

That makes him an easy mark when his co-workers discover he's a virgin. Outraged, they take it upon themselves to get him some action, thrusting him into one embarrassing situation after another. Wackiness ensues. And keeps ensuing. An hour into the movie, the plot still hasn't developed considerably beyond a series of American Pie-style awkward moments. These are, admittedly, damned funny -- Carell's comic touch far outshines that of Jason Biggs -- but they're not enough.

The story begins to turn when Andy finds a woman who he's more interested in being in love with than having sex with, and the romantic lives of his sex-crazed friends slowly being to unravel. That irony arrives with the satisfaction of finally seeing some of the characters fleshed out -- Andy's, especially. For once, he's not just a geeky virgin, or a geek because he's a virgin, but a nice guy who's just trying to connect with people. Near the film's end, when his girlfriend (Catherine Keener) is about to figure out the reason behind Andy's sexual unease, and just when it looks like he's about to (finally) admit it, he blows up and storms out in a scene that shows surprising emotional depth. But too little too late.

The question preceding this movie has been whether or not Carell can carry his first leading role. Now it seems clear that he can. Whether he can dig up a script that better showcases his talents is another question entirely.

Art, Nature and the Voice of the River @ People's Park

Sun., June 13, 11 a.m.
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