Owen Gleiberman
September 09, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

I’m one of those pesky folks who has never had much use for musicals. Too precious! Too oldfangled Hollywood! In a trend I can’t seem to get enough of, though, yesterday’s cornball convention is today’s irresistible new fangle, as actors in romantic comedies gather during the closing credits to sing and dance and send the audience home on a musical contact high.

It all started in 1998 with There’s Something About Mary, when the entire cast — and crew! — celebrated Ben Stiller’s pursuit of the girl with the gooky hair with an impromptu sing-along of ”Build Me Up Buttercup.” A charming novelty became an official blockbuster trope in Shrek, with its ”I’m a Believer” finale, then crossed over to indieville as the Bend It Like Beckham cast shimmied to ”Hot Hot Hot.” But it wasn’t until this year, when Will Smith led the stars of Hitch through a high-kicking dance-party rendition of ”Now That We Found Love,” that I saw how much a jubilant musical number could redeem (for four minutes, at least) even a mediocre movie. With Steve Carell’s enchanted-pixie rendition of ”Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, it’s official: Closing-credit musical numbers are the new outtakes. And why not? They are happy endings indeed.

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