“Knocked Up” is uproarious. Line for line, minute to minute, writer-director Judd Apatow’s latest effort is more explosively funny, more frequently, than nearly any other major studio release in recent memory. Indeed, even more than the filmmaker’s smash-hit sleeper “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” his new pic is bound to generate repeat business among ticketbuyers who’ll want to savor certain scenes and situations again and again, if only to memorize punchlines worth sharing with buddies. Currently set for a June 1 release, this hugely commercial comedy likely will remain in megaplexes throughout the summer and, possibly, into the fall.
The basic setup — pregnant with comic potential, naturally — is simplicity itself: Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), a contentedly underemployed slacker, meets ambitious Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) at a trendy Los Angeles nitery. She’s feeling celebratory because of her promotion to on-camera correspondent for E! Entertainment Television; he’s ready to party hearty because, well, that’s his natural state of being. One thing leads to another, propelled by ample amounts of alcohol, and the mismatched strangers wind up connecting for what they assume will be a one-night stand.
A few weeks later, however, Alison discovers she is pregnant.
For Ben, a scruffy layabout who shares a disheveled home with four similarly slackerish stoners, news of his impending fatherhood comes as a rude awakening. (Until now, his primary goal has been designing a Web site listing when and where actresses appear nude in homevid movies.)
For Alison, pregnancy initially seems like a career impediment — it’s hard to do red-carpet reports during one’s third trimester — but she’s ready to accept motherhood with a little help, if not a permanent commitment, from the baby’s father.
After a surprisingly smooth start, however, this unlikely bonding (which quickly evolves into a friendship with benefits) turns rocky. Alison has certain expectations — for one thing, she’d like Ben not to get stoned quite so often — and Ben has a few hang-ups. (During what is, hands down, the funniest sequence in an extremely funny movie, he turns squeamish while attempting sexual congress with his extremely pregnant partner.)
It doesn’t help that their less-than-encouraging role models are Alison’s control-freakish sister Debbie and her discontented husband Pete (Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, who, along with Rogen, also appeared in “Virgin”).
Much of what happens next can be predicted by anyone who’s seen a movie in which a feckless ne’er-do-well reluctantly comes of age when adult responsibility is thrust upon him (or her). What sets “Knocked Up” apart is Apatow’s gift for balancing the madcap swagger and uninhibited bawdiness of a high-testosterone farce with the unabashed sweetness and romantic yearning of a chick flick. That formula, so effective in “Virgin,” proves even more potent here. So much so that Apatow is able to sustain the pic for 132 minutes — unusually long for a comedy — with no visible strain and precious little filler.
Apatow has a perfect-pitch ear for dialogue that is at once profanely funny, persuasively colloquial and pop-culture-aware: The characters repeatedly reference “Spider-Man 3” — which, come summer, will be playing next door in the megaplex — in precisely the ways one would expect them to reference it.
Apatow relies relatively little on sight gags or physical slapstick, preferring to earn his guffaws from characters revealing themselves in conversations and quarrels, bull sessions and soul-bearings. The insult-heavy interplay among Ben and his roomies (well-cast Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel and Martin Starr) recalls the hectoring give-and-take among the title character’s co-workers in “Virgin.” But there is much to amuse during the quieter moments as well. When Ben gets his first glimpse at Alison without her clothes, he exclaims, with equal measures of disbelief and gratitude: “You’re prettier than I am.”
That line — which likely will cause a shock of recognition among many male ticketbuyers, though few would ever admit it — is one of many Rogen adroitly employs to construct a performance that winningly underscores Ben’s blunt-spoken crudity and puppy-dog sweetness.
In his first starring role, thesp vividly conveys both the appeal and the emptiness of eternal adolescence without ever turning too grown-up to tax believability or disappoint auds. He’s also a terrifically effective foil for Heigl, who brings a compelling edge to Alison’s fear and befuddlement and a ferociously funny frenzy to the character’s pregnancy-fueled mood swings.
Casting is spot-on from the good-sport celebs who cameo as themselves (Ryan Seacrest is fearlessly self-satirical) to fleeting bit players. Rudd makes not-so-quiet desperation even more affecting here than he did in “The Oh in Ohio,” while Mann subtly reveals the aching dissatisfaction beneath Debbie’s toxic snippiness.
Slick production package enhances pic’s overall entertainment value.