'Knocked up' fails to live up to potential

Where to begin. First, this is a hybrid film &

potentially an interesting, even complex romantic comedy which, in the end, loses to that increasingly popular genre known as the gross-out movie.

The plot, at least in the first two acts, is fairly straight forward: Ben (Seth Rogen), twenty-something, goes to a club with his four friends, hard-core generation Z slackers all. Ben is porky, unshaven, unemployed, and living with his cohorts in the suburban version of animal house, their days passed in a drug induced haze of bong pipes and a steady stream of insults and the never ending search for that one put down line that will exceed all of its antecedents in gross-out-toilet-sex humor (it's a patter that is sustained throughout the film).

Improbably, Ben meets Alison (Katherine Heigl), a knockout, responsible, essentially conservative young woman who gets sufficiently plowed (they both do) and takes Ben home to her pool house cottage where they engage in unprotected sex. Of course, eight weeks later Alison is confronted with an existential dilemma: she's pregnant. What to do? Her conundrum is quickly dealt with (after a very brief period of ambivalence), she decides to keep the baby. Her mother points out what the audience knows full well: she's still young, she has a dream job with a local television station, and the father is, well, Ben, who is as ready for serious parenting as ... well, not even.

It's at this point that the audience is asked to suspend its disbelief. Having now met Ben's friends as they sit on a circular sofa cradling bong pipes like newborn infants, convincing themselves that they are hard at work preparing to launch an X-rated Web site, Alison concludes, all evidence to the contrary, that Ben just might be good dad material. In fact, she actually begins to be attracted to him. Sure.

But recall that there are two competing narratives in this movie. "Knocked Up" could have been a funny, intelligent romance about how Alison, a young, beautiful woman, with child, insists that loser Ben entertain the idea of growing up.

This premise is far more interesting than listening to the slackers indulge in shallow, crude, and meaningless harangues that eventually become tedious and off-putting.

To a man, these infamous five are emotionally arrested 18-year-olds who have fought a pitched battle against leaving adolescence and becoming men. They abhor responsibility, and though they talk endlessly of women and physical conquests, they are never introspective, nor do they talk about anything serious, let alone what it means to live an even semi-serious life. Adulthood and marriage are viewed as being a wasteland of lost dreams and endless compromises resulting in an abiding bitterness. Men and women, so the truncated mythology goes, are unable to communicate for they are ill-suited to live together, women being committed to incarcerating the band of brothers and then systematically stamping out that free spirit so carefully nurtured in slackerdom.

Ben, of course, under considerable pressure, is the first to venture forth and even begin to consider that perhaps there might be another way of living each day. Sadly, the gross-out film subsumes the more substantial story, burying it in slacker sludge and egregious, vitriolic language and gratuitous displays of crudeness, right up to the birth of the baby when the audience is treated to an up close and personal shot of the infant crowning.

And keep in mind (hoping not to sound too cranky), there's a larger context than just the smoke-filled living room of these Generation &

Zeroes. The world is in desperate need of their youth, commitment and energy. Issues beg for attention: the planet grows warmer; Iraq is the war that is never-ending, a place where men of their age and younger are in harm's way; and 9/11 still shrouds our days with memories and warnings that will endure for generations.

The question comes to mind: why have critics stepped forward to gush over this film, calling it "uproarious, an era defining classic, and a zeitgeist-tapping generational marker." It's lewd and crude, set in the men's room, the script written on the back of a toilet stall door, and as the slackers leave the rest room club house, not one pauses to wash his hands.

"Mr. Brooks"

The yin and the yang. That pesky duality of human nature that haunts our dreams, plagues our relationships, and often catches us by surprise. Is our veneer of civility a mere disguise, hiding impulses that can turn us into something unrecognizable if allowed to fully take control? Is road rage the mere tip of the iceberg.

"Mr. Brooks" offers up an answer in the persona of Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner), Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year, loving husband, devoted father, successful business man operating a box-making company in Portland, Ore. As a character, the bookish-looking Mr. Brooks is button-down benign, and decidedly harmless.

Ah, but wait. There's more to Mr. Brooks than is initially revealed. Earl, it seems, is haunted (stalked and plagued, actually) by an ominous alter ego who has a corporeal presence and a name: Marshall (William Hurt). And it's Marshall who lives for the moment when Earl, in the dead of night, will don his breaking and entering duds and head out in search of a randomly selected young married couple to kill. Preferably in the throws of passion. We quickly learn that Mr. Brooks is the Thumbprint Serial Killer, someone who has been dormant for two years but is now back in the game (all of this was strongly hinted at in the trailer and knowing this will not detract in the slightest from enjoying this movie).

"Mr. Books" proves to be a multilayered thriller with the hunt for Earl, led by Portland detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), being only one part. There are lots of threads that are temptingly dangled in front of the audience and in need of being tied up at the climax or the denouement.

If you find this noirish genre compelling, with all of its multiple twists, then this film will satisfy.

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