Zack and Miri Make A Porno review

It's not like the Kevin Smith films of old, but Zack and Miri aren't short on belly-laughs...

Miri and Zach, ready to do battle with the MPAA

I was discussing Zack and Miri Make A Porno with a good friend and fellow Kevin Smith fan I know. He told me that he’d been distressed by the reviews of the professional critics, because they’ve been bashing the movie as the same old profane Kevin Smith. I reminded my friend that most of the critics have never cared for Kevin Smith, and that if they’re bashing the movie, by all rights we should love it. He confessed that he was hoping for something in the vein of the classic Kevin Smith movie.

Zack and Miri is not a classic Kevin Smith film. All the classic Kevin Smith traits are there: profane language, lots of witty banter, moderately outlandish situations. However, the film is light on pop culture and comic book references (as Kevin Smith films go) and it has lost a lot of Smith’s hallmark cynicism that is on display throughout most of Clerks and Dogma, and none of the comic book energy of a film like Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. What it does have is some very funny dialog, some interesting casting choices, and the charisma of Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen to propel the movie past its clichéd story.

Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) have been friends since the first grade. They’re like brother and sister, having lived together for years as high school outcasts into disaffected adults inching closer to the wrong side of 30. Their bills are piling up, their jobs suck, they’re broke, and to make things worse, their tenth high school reunion is coming up. (As someone whose tenth is rapidly approaching, I completely empathize with Zack and Miri’s situation. I think we’re all a little broke right now.)

The power at their apartment is off. The water at their apartment is off. Their car is a piece of junk. They are so far behind on their rent they’re almost back in front of it again. What’s the solution? Well, after a chance encounter with a former classmate and his new boyfriend, the answer is porn.

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Gee, why didn’t I think of that?

This is a film that depends a great deal on its stars to transcend the story. We’ve all heard it before; the set up is straight out of the John Hughes play book in which the awkward guy has a girl friend that he uses to teach him how to get women with the knowledge that the two are going to end up together at the end of the movie. I think that part was obvious from the first trailer.

That said, Elizabeth Banks is very charming as Miri, and Seth Rogen plays the usual Seth Rogen character in Zack. It’s the secondary characters in this film that really help push it along, from real-life porn actress Katie Morgan as the sweetly dumb Stacey and former porn actress Traci Lords as Mistress Bubbles, to the scene-stealing Lester (Jason Mewes) and the unsung hero of this film, from Pineapple Express, and The Office, Craig Robinson, who plays Zack’s co-worker Delaney. Robinson is one of the funniest actors on screen right now and he absolutely steals every scene he’s in. The motley crew that is assembled to make the porno is as important, if not more important, than our two leads, though obviously our two leads provide the romantic aspect of the film.

It’s a very sweet film at its core, and it has a lot of really funny moments (and also a couple of stomach-turning gross-out moments, one of which really makes me pity Jeff Anderson). Like most of these sorts of movies, there’s a bit of a tonal shift as the movie moves from the comedy part to the required romantic ending, but it’s handled well and the character of Zack is endearing enough that I didn’t turn against him. It’s uneven, but not bad by any means. It’s kind of a Judd Apatow film in that respect that there’s kind of a sharp turn towards the end where everything is going to end okay.

It’s strange. The same critics who routinely savage Kevin Smith are the ones who absolutely love Judd Apatow, and they’re basically the same guy in terms of the stories they tell and what they’re drawn to. Judd leans more towards drug use, and Kevin Smith leans more towards comic book nerds. Certainly, audiences are drawn much more to Apatow’s material than Smith these days, and Smith seems to raid the Apatow players in an attempt to give this movie more of a shot at success (either that or he’s a huge fan of crusty old East Indian actor Gerry Bednob). Was Jersey Girl that bad? Was Clerks that long ago?

Both guys deal with losers who have things happen to them that change their lives. They both use a lot of adult language, deal in serious pop culture references, and routinely flout the conventions of good taste in pretty much every respect. The big difference I’ve seen is that Judd Apatow’s movies seem to end up dealing more in the heart than Smith’s have traditionally. Apatow knows his movies, he knows his style, and he works in it, and in many ways, Kevin Smith is a guy who is changing. He, as a filmmaker and a writer, is trying to grow up, and his movies are showing that, especially on screen.

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He’s never going to be the guy who broke on the scene with Clerks again, and that’s okay. He’s not a twenty-something slacker anymore, he’s a near-forty established name with a legion of fans, a wife, and a child. It’s unreasonable for us to expect him not to change and at least try to move on from his history. Judd Apatow won’t always be the ‘vulgar language disguising a romantic comedy for dudes’ guy, either.

I kind of like what Kevin Smith is becoming. I’d like to see him continue to grow. I just wish he wouldn’t be moving in that particular direction, and perhaps try to find himself a post-nerd rom com future. His upcoming experiment in horror, Red State, will be an interesting stretch for a filmmaker aching to change.

4 stars

US correspondent Ron Hogan is becoming more of an Elizabeth Banks fan by the day. For some reason, she’s very appealing. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness , and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi .

Rating:

4 out of 5