For years, he blended in quietly with the Daily Show's stock of eyebrow-raising, stone-faced pseudo-journalists, dwarfed by the imposing genius of Jon Stewart. Through no fault of his own, he suffered NBC's ill-conceived attempt to repackage British humor and sell it to a broad American market with The Office. He achieved minor cult status as Brick Tamland in Anchorman, but still seemed to be treading water in a sea of one-dimensionality. Needless to say, I assumed that he was more suited to supporting a more versatile lead actor than supporting an entire movie.

I'll be the first to admit that I underestimated Steve Carrell.

In The 40 Year Old Virgin, Carrell plays Andy Stiltzer, a quiet, polite, straight-laced employee at an electronics outlet who doesn't own a car and rides his bike to and from an apartment adorned with action figures still in their original packaging. He leads a humble, familiar, and seemingly content existence. Oh, and he's never had sex. Not once. It's not like he hasn't tried, but every sexual experience he has had with a woman has concluded abruptly and under extremely unfortunate circumstances (like him accidentally kicking her in the face). So Andy has abandoned his libido in favor of less discomforting pursuits such as video games and collectables.

Then one night, Andy's coworkers invite him to a game of poker, and when the four of them begin exchanging tales of their sexual escapades, it becomes quickly apparent that Andy has none to speak of. For the next 70 or so minutes of the film, Andy's new friends attempt to shepherd him to the promised land, leading to a series of events that eventually result in Andy's deflowering and his buddies' ironic flirtations with celibacy.

From afar, The 40 Year Old Virgin seems like a predictable (what's that? Yes, of course he loses his virginity at the end), shallow, dumb movie saturated with lewd jokes and punched up with some slapstick physical comedy. And to a certain extent, that's exactly what it is, But not in a bad way. Oddly enough, Carrell and his co-stars make the dynamic work, specifically by approaching it with the sort of dry, slightly off-beat angle that co-writer Judd Apatow used to spin the bizarre Anchorman script into a success.

At times, though, the movie descends below the cutting edge of wit and into the banal predictability typical of its genre. The chest-waxing scene, so gratuitously advertised in the trailer, is about as boring as you would expect, and it goes on for far too long (yeah, waxing hurts, guys, we get it), and the scene where Andy's date tries to drive him home sloshed on cosmopolitans seems pulled from the b-comedy common bin in a similar way.

Still, what makes this type-comedy so fresh-seeming is the awkward, apologetic, unassuming pathos of Carrell's character. Believe it or not, Carrell and Apatow did their research, speaking to many lifetime virgins who, they found, are usually normal-seeming folks who had at one point or another simply given up on sex. Andy is not a freak. He is not ugly, or pathological, or fact, he's a likeable guy, just extraordinarily haphazard in his romantic pursuits. The fact is that you don't have to be a virgin to empathize with Andy and his travails with the opposite sex. Everyone has had an "Andy moment" here or there. Andy just happens to have those moments throughout most of the movie's 90 minutes. You'll find that it's pretty funny when those moments happen to people who aren't you.

The 40 Year Old Virgin is not perfect, but it's definitely worth your nine bucks. So go see it?it'll get better each time you do.