Eric D. Snider

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Movie Review

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: B-

Released: October 31, 2008

 

Directed by:

Cast:

You have to feel a little sorry for Kevin Smith. His first film, "Clerks," set the modern standard for vulgar, talky comedies, initially earning an NC-17 rating for its dialogue alone. Yet mainstream success has eluded Smith -- none of his seven films has grossed more than $30 million. Meanwhile, here comes this Judd Apatow character, directing and producing the same kind of R-rated sex-and-weed comedies but pulling in $100 million grosses almost every time.

"Zack and Miri Make a Porno" finds Smith playing catch-up. He cast two Apatow alumni, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, as his title characters, which makes comparisons even more unavoidable, but it was a smart move. If anyone can mix smut with sincerity, it's Rogen and Banks.

Zack and Miri are lifelong best friends and platonic roommates in Pittsburgh who can barely pay the bills with their dead-end jobs. Depressed and on the verge of being evicted, they attend their high school reunion -- yeah, that's always great for lifting your spirits -- and run into Bobby Long (Brandon Routh), Miri's one-time crush who's now out of the closet and whose boyfriend, Brandon (Justin Long), makes a nice living as a porn star. And thus the seeds of an idea are sown.

Miri points out to Zack that you don't see other people making porno films in order to pay the bills. Zack points out to Miri that "other people have options! And dignity!" Zack and Miri have neither, and they know it. It'll be easy money.

They don't just want to make a sex tape, though; those are a dime a dozen on the Internet. They want to make an actual porno film, with a lame plot and terrible acting and everything, and to that end they recruit several willing actors and actresses (including Kevin Smith mainstay Jason Mewes) to assist. There is ample humor in the casting process, and in Zack's cameraman friend Delaney's (Craig Robinson) gratitude at being able to participate in a job that lets him look at naked women. Zack's first concept is a "Star Wars"-themed porn, but this proves to be nothing more than Smith's excuse to make dirty "Star Wars"-themed puns. It's eventually scrapped, and the cast and crew produce a more generic skin flick after hours in the coffee shop where Zack works.

Zack and Miri supervise as the other cast members film scenes together (of which Smith gives us plenty of hard-R-rated footage), putting off the segment that will require them to perform with each other. When the time arrives, it becomes emotionally complicated, and yet another friendship is ruined (or nearly ruined) by sex.

It hurts Smith's film, too. The laughs are plentiful, the obscene observations witty and well delivered, for two-thirds of the running time. But when Zack and Miri's feelings for each other become the focus, "Zack and Miri" becomes soggy and trite, and the rift between the two friends is dragged out for so long that the plot grows tiresome. Get back to the dirty jokes already!

Of course, real human emotions have never been Smith's strong suit (Exhibit A: "Jersey Girl"), so it shouldn't be too hard for fans to overlook "Zack and Miri's" weaknesses and just laugh at the raunchiness -- which, for all of Smith's posturing in interviews and promotions, isn't as outrageously envelope-pushing as it would like to be. (Zack and Miri don't even take off their clothes in their pivotal sex scene, making them the worst porn actors in history.) There are times when Smith is obviously being gross just for the sake of being gross, a tactic that's beneath a skilled filth-monger such as himself.

But the Justin Long cameo is hilarious, Jason Mewes is crudely, blithely funny as always, and of course there's Rogen and Banks, two of the most capable actors you'll find for this kind of thing. It's not their fault that the emotional components don't resonate. Come to think of it, the mushy stuff is always the weakest part of the Apatow films too.

Grade: B-

Rated R, pervasive harsh profanity and graphic sexual dialogue, some graphic sexual content, a lot of nudity

1 hr., 42 min.

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