Sarah Marshall, Harold & Kumar, Dewey Cox Strip Down For A New Wave Of Movie Nudity

'Let's face it: Pants are overrated,' says 'Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay' star John Cho.

For some movie fans, the memory of the first time they glimpsed a classic nude scene is as cherished as when they first saw someone strip down for them in real life. An entire generation grew up breaking VHS tapes from the rewind-pause-rewind rigors imposed by Phoebe Cates’ pool scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”; Shannon Elizabeth’s bedroom romp in “American Pie” yielded a fame that even “Thir13en Ghosts” couldn’t erase; and 16 years after she uncrossed her legs in “Basic Instinct,” Sharon Stone is still getting work.

Now, a new generation of nakedness is giving theatergoers as many crotch shots as an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” But with all the decades of undress that have preceded, why are we suddenly witnessing this “extreme nudity” that boasts more privates than an Army boot camp?

“Let’s face it: Pants are overrated — let’s take them off,” grinned John Cho, whose “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” opens later this month and features the stoners attending a “bottomless” party. The scene contains more than a dozen shots of various va-jay-jay. “I hope it [starts a trend].”

But if you think all this new-school nudity is just for the fellas, wait till you get a load of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

“There’s a fair amount of penis in this movie,” laughed star Jason Segel recently, referring to multiple, lingering shots that give “Lil Jason” so much screen time, it deserves its own co-starring credit. “I definitely didn’t tan, but you’ve got to do a little grooming, because that makes everything look bigger.”

“Marshall” is produced by Judd Apatow, who oversaw a similar sausage fest with December’s “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” which featured several too-close-for-comfort shots.

“We had Judd Apatow pitching the most insane ideas ever to appear in a rock biopic, from me on PCP running around in a sumo diaper to me doing a scene with a penis in an orgy-like setting — I don’t think you’re going to see that in ‘Ray,’ ” John C. Reilly said of such scenes, which fans can now relive on DVD alongside a “co–umentary” about the actor performing midwaist. “You can either look at the penis or the Cox. It depends on what you want to get into at that point.”

In case you haven’t figured it out, most of this extreme nudity is being used for humorous impact. But with all these R-rated comedies proudly paying tribute to classics like “Porky’s,” “Fast Times” and Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke,” one has to wonder: Wouldn’t those movies have featured crotch close-ups and multiple full-frontal scenes if they could have gotten away with it?

“Nothing’s changed in recent times,” said a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, which assigned each of the three films an R rating rather than the dreaded NC-17. “The rating board seeks to assign the ratings based on what they think an average American parent would give [these movies]. … We urge parents to look at [the reasons for ratings] when they decide whether their kids can see certain movies.”

Appropriately enough, the MPAA ratings warn that “Sarah Marshall” boasts “sexual content … and some graphic nudity”; “Walk Hard” has “sexual content and graphic nudity”; and the “Harold & Kumar” sequel scores with “strong crude and sexual content and graphic nudity.” Perhaps, then, as the “Fast Times” generation has become parents themselves, they’ve given their blessing to the birthday suit.

“I wrote a naked breakup scene, and initially I figured we would have to shoot it ‘Austin Powers’-style, cleverly obscure it,” remembered Segel, who also serves as a “Sarah Marshall” writer. “I said, ‘What if I really showed my di–?’ and [director] Nick [Stoller] laughed it off and thought I was joking. But apparently Judd had the same idea independently. When we came together to talk about it, we went to Universal and had the most bizarre conversation of all time.”

Segel’s revelation echoes the comments of the people behind the 2004 comedy “EuroTrip,” which featured a scene with dozens of naked extras on a nude beach. “We found out that a penis can remain in R ratings, as long as it’s flaccid,” he insisted. “Once the technicalities were out of the way, we decided to do it.”

The MPAA representative, however, cautioned that there’s no such hard and fast rule. “The rating board doesn’t use specific stuff like that to rate movies,” she said. “They work with filmmakers to make sure ratings are appropriate for movies, and in discussions they’ll discuss such matters … but that’s not written in the ratings guide.”

Just five years ago, the MPAA entered into a well-publicized battle with director Wayne Kramer over “The Cooler,” rating the drama NC-17 because of a brief glimpse of pubic hair during an intense love scene. Since these newer films are using nudity for comic effect, however, it seems that their hairy moments get an easier green light.

“[Our] penis was not hard,” Reilly told us when we asked why such extreme nudity is effectively shocking and amusing. “[In my movie, when] people are looking at it, they feel a little bad for the penis. So, you know, when they get uncomfortable, they have me to look at.”

Whether this new-school nakedness defines a generation like “Fast Times” did remains to be seen, but this much is certain: At a time when we think we’ve seen everything, a handful of movies have figured out new ways to get us jawing about junk.

“I remember saying to [co-star] Kal [Penn] when we were shooting the first shot of that scene, which was us knocking on the door [and staring at a woman naked from the waist down],” John Cho said of Harold & Kumar’s soon-to-be-infamous film moment. “I said, ‘You might want to remember a few things from this party, because I think every man is going to ask you about it for as long as you live.’ ”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.”

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