‘This is 40’

This is 40's Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann sit before the school principalIf “This is 40,” you don’t want to know what 50 would be like for this whiny, self-absorbed bunch.

This is Judd Apatow’s own version of a mid-life crisis wherein he makes things seem so autobiographical by casting his wife, Leslie Mann, and their two (very funny) daughters as the family for his alter ego played by frequent collaborator Paul Rudd.

You may not be convinced though. The family bickers and fights through the entire movie, yet there are few moments that seem real or sharply observed.

The writing is too self-aware: He lets this couple say and do things that undermines their position at every turn. Apatow makes everyone look like a moron and uses their own ill-considered words against them. Would anyone be this oblivious?

Sure, there are laughs, as you would expect with Apatow and such a fine cast which also includes Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Melissa McCarthy. A few groans as well, unfortunately, due to mistimed gags or wretched lines.

But everything feels like Apatow is running through a check list for a mid-life crisis movie: A viagra joke — let’s get that out of the way in the opening scene.

In This is 40 Judd Apatow's daughters laugh at breakfastThen we’ll need aging jokes, gags about fathers-in-law, marriage counseling, doctors’ offices (far too many of these for a non-medical movie), their kids’ social media usage and of course those guilty pleasures — the wife’s sneaking smokes after giving up tobacco and the husband sneaking cupcakes.

The characters played by Rudd and Mann, named Pete and Debbie, also appeared in “Knocked Up” five years ago. So this is how they are hitting 40 — the same week, can you believe — only Debbie refuses to acknowledge the fact.

They have become more infantile than their daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow). Indeed they don’t seem like parents at all, clearly having no idea of how modern kids behave as shown by their idea that the two girls should go outside to play with a stick or build a fort.

They exist in a cocoon. Since Paul can’t get a job at any record label, he has started his own but handles only ’70s rockers who have no fan base. Does he even read Billboard?

Debbie has a fashion store that she pays so little attention to that one of her sales girls — Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi, again supporting players much funnier than the leads — must be robbing her blind.

John Lithgow and Albert Brooks converse at a birthday partySo they evoke little sympathy even when you realize each has a serious parent issue. Paul’s dad (Brooks) is mooching money from him at a furious rate to support his own out-of-control lifestyle.

Meanwhile Debbie’s dad (Lithgow) is so consumed with a younger wife that he hasn’t checked in with his daughter’s family in seven years.

But these apples haven’t fallen far from either tree. Paul is so focused on his non-career he hardly has a family life; Debbie is so obsessed in exercise and fashions to impede the aging process she makes guest appearances in her daughters’ lives.

Yet Apatow knows how to create good gags. Returning from a concert by Paul’s latest aging artist — Graham Parker, who’s really a good sport here by kidding himself — a firetruck and ambulance race by in the opposite direction. Debbie muses that “the last of Graham Parker’s fans has died.”

Of course, few directors can afford a firetruck and ambulance just for that one line but, boy, it’s a good one.

Another has Sadie tell Charlotte that she can’t watch “Lost” because it might give her nightmares. “I can handle nightmares,” the younger one declares. “You are a nightmare every day for me.”

Again, funny, funny stuff. Especially with Iris’ delivery of that line. But the film only occasionally rises to this level.

Things do get better as the movie progresses, culminating in an amusing 40th birthday party, only for Pete, mind you, as Debbie remains in denial. Many of the characters and their issues converge in a celebration that is almost more of a showdown than party.

“This is 40” wobbles at 134 minutes. With a tighter control of his material, Apatow might have made the wry, observant comedy he no doubt has in him. He just can’t shake off his need for naughty language and occasional scatology for fear it will make him seem like a “mature” comic artist.

This is Judd Apatow’s real mid-life crisis.

Opens: December 21, 2012 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: Apatow Prods./Forth Prods.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Melissa McCarthy
Director/screenwriter: Judd Apatow
Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Clayton Townsend
Director of photography: Phedon Papamichael
Production designer: Jefferson Sage
Music: Jon Brion
Costume designer: Leesa Evans
Editors: David L. Bertman, Jay Deuby, Brent White
R rating, 134 minutes