AT a recent girls' night I attended, the conversation turned (as it inevitably does, fellas) to the topic of "who would you be most likely to leave your spouse for?"
The answer wasn't Denzel Washington, with his ability to fly planes upside down, or Channing Tatum - reigning Sexiest Man Alive - with his Magic Mike physical prowess. It was Paul Rudd who prompted the moms in the room to declare that they'd leave their children waving goodbye at the curb, should Mr. Rudd make an indecent proposal.
He's an unlikely choice, given some of his unsexy roles: in Role Models Rudd played a buttoned-up energy drink rep. In Dinner For Schmucks he was a corporate climber.
His character in I Love You, Man was so milquetoast that his fiancée forced him to actively "date" men to find potential drinking buddies.
He's a veritable geriatric by Hollywood standards, at the age of 43. And other than a flash or two in Wanderlust, have we even seen his abs?
We get more than we all bargained for in This Is 40, starring Rudd and Leslie Mann as Pete and Debbie, a couple crossing the great 40th-birthday divide, but stuck in a rut.
At one point in the film Rudd is pantless and spread-eagled with a compact mirror in hand, and asking his wife for a diagnosis. "Can we just keep a small shred of mystery in our relationship?" begs Debbie.
Written and directed by Judd Apatow, This Is 40 is a loose follow-up to 2007's Knocked Up, which featured Debbie and Pete giving relationship advice to a pregnant-and-single Katherine Heigl. Pete loses his job and is looking for new direction but instead spends a lot of time in the bathroom, avoiding his wife and kids (played again by the real-life Apatow girls). Debbie piles on the fitness classes - led by Knocked Up alum Jason Segel - and makes a grocery list of all the things their family needs to fix in their relationships.
It's a three-week peek into the life of an American couple who are tackling the big issues: sex, parenting, meddling parents (John Lithgow plays hers; Albert Brooks plays his) and joblessness. Apatow admits to mining his own marriage to Mann for material (but doesn't fess up to doing acrobatics with a compact mirror).
Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy and Annie Mumolo, all from Bridesmaids, get into the mix. But that's not the only reunion in the film: Graham Parker gets together with his band Graham Parker and the Rumour after 30 years apart. Onscreen, getting the band to sign on for another record is the Hail Mary that saves Pete's career.
Apatow's brand of raunchy humour earned Knocked Up almost $300 million worldwide and a spot on the American Film Institute's Top Ten Films of the Year. But can the director parlay the awkward moments in his own marriage into box office success? Apatow and producers are counting on the boyish charm and cul-de-sac cachet of Paul Rudd to seal the deal.