Pop quiz, hotshot: What does the 2005 comedy “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” have in common with “The Magnificent Seven,” “American Pie,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Dazed and Confused”?
If you can’t figure out the answer now, don’t worry: It should hit you sometime around mid-August.
Movie fans who can get past the headline-grabbing blockbusters know that the real buzz these days is on the summer sleepers “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “The Ten,” as well as the slightly better financed “Evan Almighty.” “Blades of Glory” has already opened to huge numbers, and “Spider-Man 3″ made a few bucks as well (see ” ‘Spider-Man 3′ Busts Box-Office Records With Amazing Opening Weekend” ). If you still don’t get it — well, let’s just call it the “Virgin” effect.
Every decade or so, a movie comes along to serve as a coming-out party for a handful of actors who’ll define film for years to come. Whether it was that “Magnificent” 1960 western (Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn); the ’82 comedy “Fast Times” (Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Cameron Crowe); the ’93 drama “Dazed” (Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck); or that ’99 slice of teenage “Pie” (Alyson Hannigan, Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott), each of these films is now remembered as the trunk of a family tree that yielded dozens of films.
Two summers after “Virgin” came out of nowhere and took down clunker comedies 10 times its size, not only can you trace Steve Carell’s newfound power to the film, but also the desirability of names like Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann and Romany Malco. And now that enough time has settled for more movies to be cast, greenlit, filmed and released, we’re entering a summer that might make them household names for good.
It begins with Rogen, a 25-year-old Canadian comedian you’ll most likely remember as the redheaded guy in “Virgin.” After more than a half-decade of stealing scenes with roles such as Eager Cameraman in Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman,” he finally gets his first starring part in “Knocked Up,” playing an aimless slacker who, during a one-night stand, impregnates a career-driven woman he barely knows (“Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl). Buzz from advance screenings is so positive that it’s reminiscent of, well, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” The flick is due for a June 1 release (see ” ’40-Year-Old Virgin’ Director Hopes To Make ‘That Guy’ Seth Rogen A Star.”).
Rogen is also a major driving force behind “Superbad,” a teen comedy he had originally written for himself to star in when he was in high school. Nearly a decade later, the comedy about three teenage losers trying to buy booze on one extremely long night (think “Harold & Kumar”) is finally ready to hit theaters, with Rogen (who also directs) now cast as a clueless cop.
Seeking a younger-looking version of himself, Rogen recruited Jonah Hill, best known to “Virgin” fans as the eBay store customer who wanted the fish boots. Weaving a dazzling tapestry of F-bombs, smack-talk and slap-worthy sexual comments toward females, Hill’s performance seems like a one-man quest to bring back the R-rated comedy once and for all. Also starring “Arrested Development” star Michael Cera, the flick hits theaters August 17.
The super-busy Hill also plays Rogen’s best bud in “Knocked Up,” further establishing the improv-family dynamic embraced by “Virgin” director Judd Apatow. Long regarded as one of the funniest talents in Hollywood, Apatow had been best known as the hard-luck creator of failed shows like “Undeclared” and “The Ben Stiller Show” for years, until the 2005 hit put Hollywood at his feet. Within months, Apatow was taking meetings all over town and lining up everything from “Knocked Up” (as director) to “Superbad” (producer) to upcoming writing/producing efforts with Owen Wilson, Adam Sandler and James Franco.
Perhaps the most unlikely career to come from the “Virgin” effect, however, is that of Paul Rudd. Previously best known as a handsome leading man in films like “Clueless” and the Jennifer Aniston vehicle “The Object of My Affection,” everything seemed to change for the endlessly charming actor once he shoved a camera down his pants and engaged Rogen in a spirited game of “Wanna know how I know you’re gay?”
Now, Rudd is an in-demand improv actor undergoing a Walken-esque renaissance. Cameos in films such as “Night at the Museum” and “Reno 911!: Miami” have seen him holding his own opposite comedic heavyweights, and the most recent Sundance Film Festival warmly received his ensemble biblical comedy “The Ten.” Featuring Rudd as a hilariously frustrated narrator attempting to tell stories about the Ten Commandments while dodging his wife (Famke Janssen) and girlfriend (Jessica Alba), the irreverent comedy also features everyone from Adam Brody to Liev Schreiber to Winona Ryder (see “Winona Ryder Explains How Puppet, Sex Fit Into Bible Comedy ‘The Ten’ “ ). The flick hits theaters August 3.
But even when you look beyond the starring roles, it seems that there’s a “Virgin” star in virtually every movie. The fourth member of Andy Stitzer’s circle of friends, Romany Malco, popped up in “Blades of Glory” and is currently developing “The Recruiter,” a comedy about the Marines that Apatow will produce. Leslie Mann (a.k.a. the drunk-driving girl) continues to take on roles in Apatow productions such as “Knocked Up,” 2008′s “Drillbit Taylor” and his marriage (the couple got hitched in 1997). Then there’s Elizabeth Banks (a.k.a. Beth, the nympho bookshop babe), who has had leading-lady roles in “Slither” and the Mark Wahlberg flick “Invincible,” and once again plays fast-talking secretary Betty Brant in “Spider-Man 3.”
Then, of course, there’s Steve Carell. Neck-deep in a hot streak most actors would kill for (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Office,” “Over the Hedge”), the fumbling funnyman takes center stage June 22 for “Evan Almighty,” which has him return to the scene-stealing role he created in Jim Carrey’s “Bruce Almighty” four years ago. Now, Carell’s egotistical anchorman is contacted by God and told to build a great ark and start rounding up animals two by two — oh, and his co-star in the film is none other than Jonah Hill.
There was a time, not too long ago, when a virgin was the rarest thing you could find in Hollywood — now, it seems, they’re everywhere you look.
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