In Judd Apatow's "This Is 40," Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) are back as the beleaguered spouses from 2007's "Knocked Up." It's Apatow's chance to make another generation-defining comedy, this one aimed at former indie-rockers who suddenly find themselves skateboarding off the cliff of middle age. If anyone could find the humor in that sense of impending doom, it would be Apatow. Right?
"This Is 40" turns out to be an opportunity squandered. Instead of trying to connect Pete and Debbie to their counterparts in the audience, Apatow delivers a traditional (if rather raunchy) family film that tries to be more heartwarming than funny. This isn't "Knocked Up 2," but more like a reworking of "Parenthood."
In this telling, Debbie manages a clothing boutique while Pete runs a small record label. (Age-wise, Pete should be a child of the alt-rock '90s, but he idolizes the '70s singer Graham Parker.) For two people confronting mortality, they seem pretty settled into their roles, attending to the various schoolyard dramas of their spunky 8-year-old, Charlotte, and moody teenager, Sadie (played by Apatow and Mann's children, Iris and Maude, both very engaging). There are sexual temptations -- Jason Segel plays Debbie's touchy trainer, Megan Fox is a buxom salesgirl -- but Apatow's scattered script makes little use of them.
Apatow wastes nearly half his time wringing soggy drama from Pete's needy father, Larry (Albert Brooks), and Debbie's distant dad, Oliver (John Lithgow), and he repeats several jokes from "Knocked Up," including a drug trip in a hotel room. Rudd and Mann still have their charm, but "This Is 40" doesn't ask them to do much more than bicker and make up. There used to be something special about Pete and Debbie. Now they feel disappointingly average.
PLOT Pete and Debbie, the wrung-out spouses of Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up," return to face the onslaught of middle age.
RATING R (crude humor, language, brief nudity)
BOTTOM LINE This could have been a generation-defining comedy, but Apatow instead delivers a scattered throwaway full of typical family-film cliches. Occasionally amusing, but mostly a letdown.