Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for strong crude sexual content, explicit dialogue, graphic nudity, and pervasive language (appealed from an original NC-17 rating)
Running time: 101 min
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Jeff Anderson, Ricky Mabe, Katie Morgan, Brandon Routh, Justin Long, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Gerry Bednob, Jennifer Schwalbach
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Zack (Rogen, Kung Fu Panda) and Miri (Banks, Definitely Maybe) have been long-term platonic friends, roommates in who work in dead-end jobs that barely cover the rent. Due to a seemingly insurmountable amount of debt, they find themselves in need for quick cash and no legitimate way to pay the bills in sight. Through a bit of brainstorming (and a chance encounter with a successful gay porn star), they settle on a venture to make their own pornographic film. However, the "just friends" status between them is threatened once feelings between them emerge when confronted with having to see each other engaged in sexual activities with others.
One would think that given the blank check for raunch that Kevin Smith (Clerks II, Jersey Girl) has given himself with subject matter inherently adult in nature, he would be able to cut loose and deliver his funniest film ever. While Zack and Miri definitely gives viewers not averse to perpetual sexual references and scatological humor its share of solid belly laughs, there is a feeling of Kevin Smith finally beginning to appear a little long in the tooth in terms of his ability to connect with the modern day audience for R-rated romantic comedies. He does push the boundaries of good taste in a way that another raunch-o-rama comedic force, Judd Apatow, does so well, mixing an underlying sweetness underneath the gender, race and culture politics that comprise the bulk of the film's sense of humor. However, while Apatow has his finger firmly on the pulse of today's young American audiences, Smith. who virtually reinvented the niche with his breakthrough Clerks, gives us a little too much filth in his sentimental fun, resulting in a film that begins to outlive its good cheer by going increasingly into exceedingly vulgar territory. There is a palpable aftertaste to Zack and Miri that undermines the sweetness of long subdued romance that exists among the film's more likeable characters.
Apatow regular Rogen continues to be perfectly cast as the loveable lug who wears his vices on his sleeve, yet we know that deep down he is absolutely harmless. Elizabeth Banks compliments his style well, adding beauty and a sense of comic timing to balance out the somewhat seedier elements of the supporting characterizations. That supporting cast delivers the right mix of personalities, from the sass of Craig Robinson (Walk Hard), to the sexpot appeal of porn goddess Traci Lords (Novel Romance), but they don't always translate into laughs. View Askew regs Jason Mewes (Bottom's Up) and Jeff Anderson (Love 101) have their share of screen time, though neither appears to fit the nature of their characters as they had in Smith films past. Mewes is to be admired for baring all in the film's most out-there performance, though he does continue to show that he isn't nearly as funny when not playing Jay.
As with all of his previous recent efforts, Smith still hasn't come close to hitting the directorial groove he hit in his most beloved romantic comedy of crassness, Chasing Amy, mostly due to the lackluster way he chooses to shoot and edit scenes, in addition to his need to coat each and every scene with background music. It's a crutch that continues to distance the audience from the more intimate aspects of the story. Nevertheless, he does deliver some memorable moments, some good, such as the consummation of Zack and Miri's feelings in one awkwardly-developed porn shoot, and some you may wish you'd forget (the film's grossest moment, too unsavory for me to care to detail with any level of specificity, will have many retching not just for minutes, but for days afterward.)
Smith adheres to the formula of his previous similar efforts in that the two would-be lovers initially find reasons not to be together, then they have a lapse of judgment that explores the possibility of romantic entanglement, a pulling back completely, and then a coming to terms. If you love Smith's previous films, you will find a familiar comfort with the established universe of characters and their perversities in Zack and Miri. While I enjoyed the film enough to recommend to a fellow Kevin Smith fan like myself, I still feel like he has yet to turn the corner and become something more than a niche filmmaker able to cross over appeal to anyone not already on board to his style. Like any real-life porno made today, you know exactly what goods he's going to be deliver, and he gives you exactly that in abundance.
©2008 Vince Leo