Michael Showalter, the writer-director-star of "The Baxter," has said he made the film so that his parents and their friends could enjoy a good clean comedy. "The Baxter" is clean all right; "good" might be a stretch. Peter Dinklage has a funny bit as a gay wedding planner, but that's about it.
A "Baxter" is the term coined by Mr. Showalter to describe the poor shlub who always gets left at the altar. Case in point: Nebbish tax accountant Elliot Sherman (Showalter), whose engagement to Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), a blond goddess magazine editor, is derailed by the sudden reappearance of her studly high-school heartthrob (Justin Theroux).
Elliott is depicted as the kind of man women end up settling for, but it's not clear why Elizabeth had to settle. She seems to hook up with Elliott because that's what it says to do in the script. Yes, opposites have been known to attract, but the opposite of zero is still zero.
Obviously, this is not what we're meant to think. We're supposed to see Elliott as a truly decent guy who deserves a truly decent girl - like Cecil (Michelle Williams), the smiley office temp who secretly pines for him. Elliott is too dim to realize that they were made for each other, but guess what? In a real shocker, he ends up falling for her.
Mild to the point of invisibility, "The Baxter" is nevertheless part of a warming trend in movie comedy - the celebration of the virtuous. The "40-Year-Old Virgin" is proving a hit with audiences because, I suspect, the whole womanizer thing is becoming tiresome. (The wedding crashers in "The Wedding Crashers," please take note, are given their comeuppance in the end).
And while Elliott may be innocent, audiences are not, at least when it comes to movie sophistication. Savvy viewers will see through this pastiche of shopworn goods. Grade: D
• Rated PG-13 for brief sexual humor and some drug references.