Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Director : Kevin Smith
Screenplay : Kevin Smith
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Seth Rogen (Zack), Elizabeth Banks (Miri Linky), Traci Lords (Bubbles), Jason Mewes (Lester), Ricky Mabe (Barry), Craig Robinson (Delaney), Katie Morgan (Stacey), Justin Long (Brandon), Brandon Routh (Bobby Long), Jeff Anderson (Deacon)
The title of Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno neatly sums up not only what the movie is about (two characters named Zack and Miri, um, make a porn film), but also the tone of the movie. As a declarative statement, the title is aggressively in your face, to the extent that I would wager some people feel a bit embarrassed to say it (albeit not the ones who typically go to Kevin Smith movies). I’ve also noticed that some newspaper ads are leaving out the title’s predicate, reducing it to merely Zack and Miri (which is probably a bad thing to do since it might mislead some viewers into what they think will be a simple romantic comedy). For all its aggressiveness, though, Smith’s purposeful choice of the word porno hints at a kind of nostalgic silliness. Really--who actually still says “porno”?
Like most of his films, Zack and Miri resides in the unique Kevin Smith land of almost embarrassingly exuberant obscenity that is just a cover for his genuinely romantic sensibilities (Smith is like the kid in the schoolyard who calls a girl names because he’s secretly in love with her). There isn’t a line of dialogue that isn’t laced with the kinds of words you can’t print in family-friendly publications, and sometimes the obscenities comes at you so fast and furiously that they’re all you hear. Smith has a certain vulgar charm that makes most of it work, but sometimes you wish he would ease off the four-lettered harangues and let his actors breathe a bit.
The title characters, who have been best friends since first grade and now live as platonic roommates in Pittsburgh, are played by Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. All is not well, though, because they are both just this side of broke, which comes down on them hard when the landlord shuts off their water and their electricity … in the dead of winter. After an ill-fated high school reunion in which Miri learns that the football hunk (Brandon Routh) she wanted to revenge-seduce for calling her names back in the day is now in a relationship with a husky-voiced gay porn star (Justin Long), Zack hits on the ultimate idea: They’ll make a porn film and pay off their debts with the profits. Miri doesn’t exactly jump on the idea, but it has a certain appeal, especially when Zack points out that neither one of them has any dignity left, so why not?
Their first ploy is to make an “erotic reimagining” of Star Wars called Star Whores, which allows Smith to indulge in his two favorite topics: sex and geekdom. That falls through when the warehouse they’ve converted to a soundstage is demolished, but inspiration strikes again when Zack decides to use the Starbucks-esque coffee shop in which he works as a backdrop for their movie, which also features a motley assortment of oddballs and has-beens, including Jason Mewes, the erstwhile Jay to Smith’s Silent Bob, as a dim bulb with some impressive abilities south of the navel, and the former underage porn queen Traci Lords as Bubbles, a bachelor-party performer who has truly earned her name. The whole enterprise is being financed by Delaney (Craig Robinson), one of Zack’s fellow baristas who hands over the cash he was saving up for a flat-screen TV in the hopes of making more with the porn movie. (The production of the film-within-the-film has a goofy kind of Andy Hardy “let’s make a movie” vibe, albeit one that works only in fits and starts.)
The real crux of the story, though, isn’t the movie they’re making, but what Zack and Miri will have to do in it. You see, they decide to star in the movie and have sex on camera, which will be the first time they’ve had any intimate contact during their 20-year friendship. Their on-camera interlude starts off as a hilarious riff on the worst kind of awkward porn situation-comedy, but once it comes time do the deed, it turns into a moment of sweet romanticism, which is something of a miracle given that it’s taking place on top of a bag of coffee beans. Which brings up the pressing question: Can two friends remain friends after having sex on camera together?
Essentially, then, what Smith has done is remake When Harry Met Sally (1989) as a dirty comedy about making dirty movies, which is certainly a promising idea, even if it never really comes together as well as it should, despite some obvious work on Smith’s part of expand his repertoire (a non-Jersey setting, some actual camera movement, borrowing the majority of his cast from Judd Apatow’s stable). However, he lets the movie become too predictable when it should be throwing you for loops, and the genuinely effective emotional connection he creates between his two leads ultimately gets lost in both the scatological bawdiness and a lethargic third act that does little other than tread water for a few minutes before bringing on the inevitable romantic climax.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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