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MOVIE REVIEW: 'This is 40' feels like finding coal in your stocking

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This publicity film image released by Universal Pictures shows, from left, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in a scene from the film, "This is 40." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Suzanne Hanover)

This is 40

(R)

2 out of 4 stars

Not long after the solid one-two punch of "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," Judd Apatow not only became one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, he had invented his own sub-genre: the risque adult romantic comedy.

In the five years since "Virgin" and not including "This is 40," Apatow has only directed one other film (the unfunny "Funny People") and has instead concentrated on shepherding like-minded movies that have more or less kept his production company profitable. They're all variations on the same latent man-boy, adolescent humor motif that have served him so well. On the whole, Apatow has been a good thing for the industry and audiences alike.

"This is 40" is a movie that finds Apatow wanting to stretch artistically with one foot while keeping the other firmly entrenched in the tried (sometimes tired) and true. It takes a minimal amount of chances and thus, delivers a minimum amount of results. There is just enough of his patented shtick to keep his die-hards happy and a sliver of something different offered up to the uninitiated to pique their interest but not enough to make either camp very happy.

On paper, it's a great concept: take the two principal supporting characters from "Knocked Up" and give them their own film. When making a spin-off, it is crucial that at least one of the lead performers from the original (in this case Seth Rogen and/or Katherine Heigl) show up but neither did. The reasons for this are unknown and there are several theories as to why or why not that happened but in the end it doesn't matter. This movie has to stand alone on its on merits.

To call "This is 40" uneven would be a gross understatement but that is not necessarily such a bad thing. Apatow's strength is in mixing the silly with the serious but in this case it's either too silly or too serious. His only real achievement here is showing what can happen to a married couple when impending age, financial woes and unmet expectations collide.

Reprising her supporting role from "Knocked Up," Leslie Mann (Apatow's real-life wife) this time has the lead as Debbie, a small business owner and all-around stick-in-the-mud. As her family celebrates her 40th birthday, she corrects them by saying she's only 38 and later 36 or maybe 37 -- she's having trouble keeping track of what birthdates she's provided to whom.

Debbie's husband Pete (Paul Rudd) was once a successful professional of some sort but decided to chuck the suit and tie for various fringe band T-shirts and started his own independent record company. Possessing far more passion than business acumen, Pete is counting on the career revival of '80s rocker Graham Parker (as himself) to lift his fledgling label out of the red and into the black.

As with most shaky marriages, Pete and Debbie's is rooted in money problems. Living in a hoity-toity area of L.A., they talk the talk but are having trouble walking the walk and each is in heavy denial on multiple levels. One of her employees is stealing from her and he is supporting his lazy father (Albert Brooks) without Debbie's knowledge.

Feeling the pinch, they start cutting corners, the first being the elimination of creature comforts enjoyed by their girls Sadie and Charlotte (Mann and Apatow's daughters Maude and Iris). While Charlotte is too young to really care, the teen Sadie busts a gasket, goes ballistic and unleashes a slew of retaliatory four-letter words.

It's severely off-putting to listen to a young girl talk like a sailor and even worse when her parents allow it. For his part Pete alternates between befuddled and perplexed and only finds refuge from the pressures of life while sitting on the thrown playing electronic board games.

As with all Apatow movies, "This is 40" (at 134 minutes) is in desperate need of judicious editing; the film feels as if it's still in the rough-cut stage. Scenes that should have been excised entirely run on and on which wouldn't be so bad if most of the story was somewhat funny. Delivering 10 or so hearty laughs over such a long stretch is interminable especially when the rest of the narrative is so unpleasant and frequently pointless. Watching a family's financial and spiritual meltdown is no one's idea of desirable Christmas fare even if it ends with some modicum of faux-uplift. Unless you're a glutton for punishment, leave this chunk of coal in the stocking. (Universal)