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Over the past Judd Apatow has become a brand, known for reliably dirty-sweet comedy.

And while This is 40 continues in this vein, it’s also a strangely regressive film — more like the first movie of a promising would-be auteur than the CEO of the world’s leading Laugh Factory. At least that’s how our Philip Martin sees it.

He says “the conceptless This Is 40 is [Apatow’s] Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., a singer-songwriterly debut into which the artist has obviously thrown his soul and viscera. It is messy, but with little bits of poetry shining through the gore.”

And while it might be the worst of the four films Apatow has heretofore directed, it also delivers the requisite gross-out scene for the fanboys.

Also opening this week: The excellent documentary The Central Park Five (which Karen Martin calls “stunningly effective”); Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand in The Guilt Trip (which Dan Lybarger laments as sit-commy and “spotty”); Lay the Favorite, which looks to be one of the redoubtable Stephen Frears’ lesser effort; colorful acrobats in Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D and Tom Cruise as the eponymous anti-hero in Jack Reacher. (Which came in too late for the newspaper — see Piers Marchant’s review of that one on blooddirtangels.com.)

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