Independent Film Festival of Boston organizers said this was probably the most family-friendly selection in their six-year history, and they're right. It's a culturally aware comedy that's always light instead of challenging, aiming most laughs at the pre-teen set. To put it bluntly, Ping Pong Playa is as goofy as its title.
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We begin with Brooks (playing himself) auditioning for a Penny Marshall-directed remake of Harvey. He doesn't get the part, largely because he's "not the next Jimmy Stewart," but he does follow Stewart's lead by heading off to Washington at the request of our government. He's asked to travel to India and Pakistan on a goodwill mission to discover what makes Muslims laugh. Might I suggest he start by looking any place his film isn't screening?
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Such is Dave Payne's story in Just Can't Get Enough, a docudrama that looks like it was made for TV -- as long as you don't consider the near-constant nudity (male and female). Reminiscent of Boogie Nights, the film begins as the story of a do-gooder business student (Jonathan Aube) who wants to work at Chippendale's as a manager, but soon he's dancing on stage, losing his girlfriend, and basically watching his life go down the tubes. By the midpoint, the film has become Rated X, the tepid TV biopic about San Francisco strip club pioneers, the Mitchell brothers.
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In a welcome change from puerile and stinking-rotten Rob Schneider and David Spade movies, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is a ribald comedy that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, despite being custom-built around a scene-stealing second-banana who really belongs in small roles.
Deadpan "Daily Show" correspondent Steve Carell, who briefly but memorably upstaged Will Ferrell in "Anchorman" and Jim Carrey in "Bruce Almighty," stars as Andy Stitzer, a king-dork electronics store clerk rapidly approaching middle age and so bereft of social skills that he's never managed to get much past first base with a woman. When his co-workers realize this, watching him fumble to fit in while swapping sex stories during an after-hours poker game, they make it their mission to get the poor guy laid.
Co-written by Carell and director Judd Aptow (creator of TV's "Undeclared" and "Freaks and Geeks"), the plot is perfectly pitched to its star's talent for playing hapless, hopeless twits. Put Carell in a polo shirt, a pair of khakis and a K-Mart windbreaker, and he can garner hardy chuckles with little more than a perplexed stare from his deep-set buggy eyes. He dives headlong into this character, earning cheek-hurting laughs with painfully awkward moments (his pals convince him to get his chest waxed) and giving Andy such an authentic geekdom (his apartment is lined with collectable toys in their original packaging) that the movie's plot hardly feels like a gimmick at all.
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