Not since John Hughes' mid-'80s heyday of teen movies has a writer-producer made so many crowd-pleasing comedies as Apatow. For a while the hits just kept on coming: the two films he directed (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up) and the 493 (actually, seven) other comedies he's produced in the past two years. But this summer the box-office take of his movies shriveled to flop size. Year One, a prehysterical farce with Jack Black and Michael Cera, tanked, and Funny People, his heartfelt tribute to stand-up comics, underperformed despite the presence of two Apatow stars, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.
But the template was there for anyone to use. The Hangover, an R-rated guy-bonding comedy with characters straight from the Apatow oeuvre, was the surprise hit of the summer. (I Love You, Man, with Apatow regulars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, earned $71 million this spring.) It may well be that the Judd-eye knight will retake the empire, but, as Hughes earlier proved, comedy is as susceptible to audience whim as any other genre. And nobody's funny forever.