Let's face it: A "40-Year-Old Virgin" is an easy target for jokes. But it's Steve Carell (search) — and the character he plays — who are getting the last laugh.
Opening to rave reviews this weekend, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (search) features Carell, best known for his former stint as a news correspondent on "The Daily Show," as a bachelor whose carnal innocence is finally revealed to his friends.
"He's a decent guy — he's not weird, he just missed some opportunities and he's struggling like everybody is, but he's struggling with something that's a little bit different," Carell told FOX News.
Playing the weather guy in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," Carell got chummy with producer Judd Apatow (search), who felt the actor had comedic chops to carry a film of his own.
Carell had the seed of an idea about a middle-aged man who had missed the boat on sex and given up trying. The premise immediately clicked with Apatow, who directed and co-wrote "Virgin" with Carell.
"The idea makes you laugh, and you're instantly sympathetic. We've all lived through that moment where we had sex for the first time," Apatow said. "You're terrified, so the idea of a guy so scared he let it get past him is relatable to us."
The story's genesis was Carell's idea of a virgin being found out by disbelieving acquaintances, a nugget that became an early scene in the film when Carell's character, Andy Stitzer, blusters through fictitious bedroom tales at a poker game with his work pals, who are sharing outrageous stories of their sexual conquests.
Andy hems and haws when his turn comes around, tossing out crude, macho sex cliches and finally tipping off the others about his virginal status when he describes a woman's breast as feeling like a "bag of sand."
"I just liked the notion of a guy trying desperately to tell a sex story but having no knowledge of sex or no handle on the vernacular of sex talk, and trying to invent it with very adept guys who have told the sex story many, many times," Carell said.
Associated Press movie critic Christy Lemire gave the film three and a half stars out of four, calling it "hysterically funny" and Carell "utterly charming in his first starring role."
"What's truly refreshing is that Judd Apatow (who co-wrote the script with Carell and makes his film directing debut) clearly has genuine respect and affection for this character. True, Carell's Andy Stitzer is obsessed with video games and fastidious about his elaborate collection of sci-fi paraphernalia. He wears an argyle sweater to play poker with the guys, all of whom are tossing back beers while he sips an orange Fanta.
"But Apatow, executive producer of the short-lived but critically adored TV series 'Freaks and Geeks,' depicts Andy as neither a freak nor a geek. The movie never holds him up for ridicule, simply for the sake of a cheap laugh," Lemire wrote.
But it does, obviously, find the humor in Andy's situation. In their quest to help him get lucky, Andy's pals recommend that he get his chest hair ripped off.
And no, Carell wasn't faking it in the already-famous scene.
"That was all real, yeah ... they really ripped it off," Carell told FOX News. "I have no back hair and have, like, three inches of chest hair!
FOX News' Mike Waco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.