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THIS IS 40

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In “This Is 40” Judd Apatow attempts, as he did in “Funny People,” a more serious treatment of family relationships than in his early films—though still in a comedic vein, of course—but in the end it doesn’t manage to go much deeper than they did. Moreover, it’s still as coarse as we’ve come to expect of him, and though it improves in the last act, it also becomes less edgy and more conventional there. The result is only fitfully amusing and overall rather irritatingly self-absorbed—Apatow navel-gazing and posting the result for our dubious benefit.

The script focuses on the secondary couple from Apatow’s smash “Knocked Up”—Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann). It’s some years on from the earlier picture—both are on the cusp of their forties, as the title indicates—and Paul’s opened up a “nostalgic” record label while Debbie’s running a boutique. Neither business, it must be said, is thriving, yet the couple still live in pretty high suburban style along with their two daughters, moody teen Sadie (Maude Apatow) and her eight-year old sister Charlotte (Iris Apatow).

You’re intended to believe that this family loves one another deeply, but they spend most of their time bickering and screaming; it’s a very noisy household. Bubbling beneath the surface are the monetary problems—Pete’s signing of old-timer Graham Parker quickly becomes a bust, and Debbie’s faced with the suspicion that one of her clerks, sultry Desi (Megan Fox), has been embezzling from the store. Meanwhile they’re both stressed by encroaching middle-age, and by the demands of parenthood. Sadie’s addicted not only to Facebook, where a fellow student is posting mean messages about her, but to the TV series “Lost,” which she’s watching episode by episode enthralled. And she’s constantly at loggerheads with Charlotte, who of course is wise beyond her years. (At one point she even acts as the voice of reason, reflecting the viewer’s feeling by saying that she’s tired of all the fighting.) The family seems, in fact, on the verge of breaking down, until it reaches a fresh start in the events surrounding Debbie’s big birthday party.

Even before that, it should be noted, there are oases of mirth amid the generally unpleasant din of the family squabbles—which are marked, unhappily, by a stream of offhandedly foul language and an impressive collection of sexually gross moments. Many are provided by Albert Brooks as Pete’s dad, who’s remarried and is sponging off his son, who can’t afford it. Brooks does his laid-back nebbishy, self-deprecatory routine so well that you can’t help but smile every time he appears to recite the droll dialogue either Apatow or he has come up with. There’s some funny stuff, too, in Pete’s music-business business, especially the harangues of his assistant (Chris O’Dowd) and the quiet resignation of Parker. But Apatow goes too often for the comic jugular in his usual style—as in a couple of scenes involving Catherine (Melissa McCarthy), the bellicose mother of that Facebook-posting classmate of Sadie’s, which extract laughs from profanity-laden bellowing. Apatow likes one of them so much that he includes an extended version of it in the closing credits—and audiences who wallow in such stuff will love it, too. But it’s really humor at the lowest of brows. And the material focusing on Debbie’s other clerk, Jodi (Charlyne Yi), is so strange that it seems to come from another movie entirely.

A measure of redemption occurs, in every sense, in that last-act birthday party, when Brooks pops up again and is joined by John Lithgow as Debbie’s distant, fastidious dad, who’s a perfect counterpoint. Together these two old pros give a master lesson in timing and restraint—something the rest of the company might have learned from. Unfortunately, Apatow opts for more raucous goings-on to end things on a “high” note rather than following their lead.

Rudd and Mann certainly inhabit their roles as a couple struggling to find some sort of balance in their lives, but they tend to overdo their big moments—more a function of the writing than their failing as actors—and the Apatow kids similarly tend toward the manic. O’Dowd’s overplaying works better, in the pure sitcom sense, and though she’s stuck with a rather unseemly character twist, Fox comes across as surprisingly likable. Jason Segel also has a pleasant cameo, and Yi does what’s asked of her—which is nothing worth watching. (Unless I missed it, there’s no reference as to why Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s Ben and Alison around heard from this time around.)

As usual in Apatow product, the technical credits are professional, though the faux-realist approach of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, accentuated by the editing of Brent White and Jay Dauby, tries to invest the material with a dramatic credibility it really doesn’t warrant. There’s a great deal of emphasis throughout on pop music (including lots old tunes chosen by supervisor Jonathan Karp), which is defensible on plot terms given Pete’s current occupation, but is really another of the writer-director’s characteristic crutches, using shared memories with his audience to do his dramatic work for him. It saves him the need to pen truly revealing dialogue.

Though it’s about the encroachment of middle-age, “This Is 40” doesn’t really represent much of an advance in Apatow’s fundamentally adolescent attitudes. That may sit well with his fans, but it’s beginning to appear to be a case of arrested cinematic development.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN-PART 2

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At one point in this final installment of the “Twilight” saga, the new-born vampire Bella (Kristen Stewart) is practicing her skill as a “shield”—one who emanates a blur of protective energy—to keep her hubby Edward (Robert Pattinson) from feeling the effect of another vampire’s electric touch. When he’s asked about the result, Edward says, “Still painful, but tolerable.”

That’s a pretty fair assessment of “Breaking Dawn-Part 2,” which is easily the best of the franchise’s five episodes but still none too good. It suffers, as the earlier pictures did, from risible dialogue, amateurish acting, and effects that are far from special. But this time around the result isn’t quite so hard to stomach, and not merely because you know the pain is almost over. Director Bill Condon brings a hint of genial self-deprecation to the mix that’s almost like an admission that he knows what junk he’s peddling, and is half-apologizing for it. Of course, that won’t stop him and the other filmmakers from carrying the loot this final entry brings in to their already overstuffed bank accounts.

It certainly helps that the movie isn’t burdened with the dismal, ugly tone of “Part 1.” To be sure, it doesn’t boast much of a plot. Simply put, Bella, Edward, the rest of the Cullen clan and wolfman Jacob (Tyler Lautner) are faced with the task of protecting the happy couple’s new child, Renesmee, from the powerful Volturis, the ruling family that maintains a semblance of order within the vampire universe under the whimsically domineering rule of Aro (Michael Sheen). To do that, they must convince their friends and potential allies that the fast-growing girl is no threat to them, and thus make them witnesses to her benign nature. They do in fact assemble a small force of defenders, composed of both vampires and werewolves despite their natural hostility, to face off against Aro and his army of robed minions on a snowswept tundra.

That big confrontation is unquestionably the high point of the picture, marked by a lot of action that’s fun and impressive despite effects that fall far short of the best to be found on screen nowadays. It also turns out to be a narrative jest , a means by which Condon—and the audience—can have their cake and eat it too, stuffing themselves with decapitations and other anatomical indignities without any real emotional pain. It’s all based on a ploy that would be dismissed as a cheap trick if there were any depth to what was happening. But since there isn’t, it’s easy just to go along for the ride, especially since Sheen presides over the mayhem with such a gleeful sense of malice.

Unfortunately, to get to that point a viewer has to make his way through plenty of stuff that’s much less enjoyable—lovey-dovey montages of Bella and Edward loping through the forest or smooching in flower-filled plains, visits to potential allies that tend to blend together, and dippy dialogue, intended to explain the mythology behind the plot convolutions, that devotees of the book might understand but others will find the narrative equivalent of a foreign language. You also have to put up with the melancholy posing of Pattinson, who has remarkably little to do this time around but look angst-ridden, and the puffed-up preening of Lautner (though admittedly the film treats his inevitable taking-off-his-shirt scene with an appropriate grin). Stewart is somewhat more animated than she was in the more morose turns of the previous chapters, but she remains a drearily one-note actress of very limited range. Everybody else is relegated to virtual cameo status, which with a few exceptions (Billy Burke, Jackson Rathbone) is all to the good.

On the technical side, “Part 2” does a somewhat better job of melding the live-action footage (decently shot by Guillermo Novarro) with the elaborate CGI effects, but the quality doesn’t begin to approach that of the blockbusters put out by other studios. By comparison to them, this picture looks cheap, though not as embarrassingly so as the earlier installments. The background score, however, is terrible, especially at the beginning, when a succession of sloppy pop tunes throbs away behind the visuals. (Music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas is the culprit.) And even when Carter Burwell’s original music kicks in, it’s not much better.

But despite all this, “Breaking Dawn-Part 2” actually represents the high point of the series, and at the end Condon gives fans a nice sendoff with a complete roll-call of all the actors who’ve appeared throughout it. That should please the initiates. For the rest of us it merely serves as a reminder that when it comes to ‘Twilight,” night has fallen all too slowly.