Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Movie Information

The Story: Two down-on-their-luck lifelong friends decide to make a skin flick in order to pay their bills. The Lowdown: An extremely adult sex comedy from Kevin Smith, which shows the director’s continuing maturity as both a writer and a director, but trades too much on hit-and-miss vulgarity to be as funny as it could have been.
Genre: Crass Sex Comedy
Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Justin Long
Rated: R

Director Kevin Smith is back, with the usual array of controversy not far behind. Whether it be the perceived anti-Catholic stance of Dogma (1999), the supposed homophobic leanings of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) or late film critic Joel Siegel walking out of Clerks II (2006) due to a scene of interspecies erotica—not to mention the controversial idea that Jersey Girl (2004) was even made in the first place—brouhaha is part and parcel of Smith the filmmaker. And his latest, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, is no different.

Apparently, just the idea of a film about pornography is enough to vex some, as one local theater chain has listed the movie as Zack and Miri Make a Movie in their newspaper ads. Never mind the person who doesn’t pay attention to ratings or plot synopses and wanders into the film one lazy afternoon to find out exactly what kind of movie Zack and Miri are making. Nevertheless, the controversy attached to this film—like Smith’s previous efforts—is not the movie. And this is an important distinction. Zack and Miri is as much about porn as Clerks II is about bestiality. The film is really about the characters. The bawdy obscenity is simply a bonus.

It should be noted that this isn’t a movie for the easily offended. It’s about as R-rated as R-rated can be, filled with the usual Smith-ian impropriety, but this time with added unadulterated nudity (most of which—like that of Smith regular Jason Mewes’ character—is of the duck-and-cover variety) and a very matter-of-fact attitude towards sex. The gist of the film’s plot is laid out in the title. Slacker coffee-shop employee Zack (Seth Rogen) and his roommate and lifelong buddy Miri (Elizabeth Banks) decide to make a skin flick with their friends in order to pay off their utilities. But within all the lasciviousness inherent in the story, there’s a genuine care for the characters. The movie becomes a very unconventional, ultimately sweet-tempered romantic comedy, as formerly platonic friends Zack and Miri come to terms with the idea that they have feelings for one another.

Much like Smith’s Chasing Amy (1997), Zack and Miri deals with the complex nature of sex and friendship; but unlike the former, it’s built within the unorthodox framework of making amateur porn. Smith as the hopeless romantic is on full display here, as is his maturation as both a writer and filmmaker. Sure, much of his direction is uneventful. But there are some attempts at pushing himself cinematically, such as the scene that matches what’s on-screen with the Pixies’ “Hey” on the soundtrack. While the scene doesn’t quite carry the emotional impact it wants, it’s still a game attempt at trying something more.

Nonetheless, Zack and Miri feels like it’s missing something. Some of it is that the ideas and observations put forth by Smith don’t seem quite as astute or fresh as compared to those in Chasing Amy or even Clerks II. And Smith’s relentless pop-culture references are starting to feel uninspired, or worse, like old hat (Kevin Smith likes Star Wars? Unbelievable!).

Most of the film’s shortcomings, however, seem to be connected to the film’s sordid sense of humor, which is hit-and-miss. Some of it can be hilarious. Justin Long as a gay porn star steals the 10 minutes of screen time he gets, and Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express) and Mewes (especially his description of a “Dutch Rudder”) get a few laughs. But too much of the humor seems predicated on the idea that Rogen spouting expletives is inherently funny. And it’s not.

For Smith fans, none of this may matter, but for the uninitiated, the fact that the movie feels a bit slight might turn out to be a deal breaker. Rated R on appeal for strong crude sexual content, including dialogue, graphic nudity and pervasive language.


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