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Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Funny, Yet Not Smith-y.

Posted by goldwriting on November 2, 2008

I’m sure you know my companion here. He’s in every comedy this year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

It’s been a long time coming. Finally someone tackled the incredibly hard genre of porn parody in the mainstream film world. This area has been begging to be cracked open and poked fun at for decades, almost since the inception of porn itself. The missing link in this universal quest was waiting for the right director to come along, one with enough guts to get down and dirty with the humor, one with enough skill to handle the depravity of the comedy without losing the audience, and finally one with enough of a following that it wouldn’t matter if he videotaped a poster of dogs playing poker for two hours. That director has come and he bears the name Kevin Smith…or does he?

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the childishly charming story of two best friends who find their wallets bone dry and no prospects for paying their long overdue bills until Zack has the brilliant epiphany of shooting a porno starring themselves. Leading this adult-themed romp, Zack and Miri pull together a cast and crew of porn outcasts and misfits, along with some familiar faces to the comedy world, and form a family they didn’t know they were missing until it was already there. Along the way Zack and Miri also deal with the most common question between two best friends of opposite genders: Will sex change us?

Before even breaching the doorway of the theater any audience member who knows the name Kevin Smith is prepped and ready for dirty jokes, loads of sarcasm and possibly male nudity, but after the past year of R-rated comedies and the explosion of Judd Apatow, none of those previous shock factors hold much weight anymore. What Kevin Smith had to rely on in this film was his own personal style of witty dialogue and banter, exemplified early in Smith’s career with Clerks, where Dante and Randal debate over the righteousness of killing unionized Storm Troopers in The Empire Strike Back. That conversation would never appear in any other director’s works, let alone in their heads. Unfortunately Zack and Miri didn’t reach quite the same level of kitsch or intellectual playfulness we are used to from Smith. There are certainly moments of it sprinkled throughout, but the overall feel was a let down from his normal style. This could be the result of what every director goes through while they try to expand their market and skills (and this will only be further detailed in 2010 with the release of Smith’s first horror film, Red State), but the main difference now is when Smith first erupted onto the scene he was the lone torch bearer for the R-rated comedy world and now Apatow has taken the flame and run with it. With Zack and Miri lacking the spark and wit usually associated with Smith, it is too easy to mistake this for any new director being towed along in the Apatow wake. Now don’t take this to mean I didn’t like the film, I most certainly enjoyed myself, but it just left me wanting more of the Kevin Smith-ness I yearned for (which was easily solved by a quick jaunt home and a return viewing of Dogma…God bless that movie!).

Adding slightly to the Apatow undertone is the casting of Seth Rogen as Zack, who has been pleasurably riding along with Apatow and his crew since the days of Freaks and Geeks. This is not a slight on Rogen at all, because he has certainly done his homework and made all the efforts to be where he is today, but a large number of his big projects, especially in recent film history, have been under the banner of Apatow films, if not directed by the man himself. So audiences have certainly come to know Rogen and the style he brings to any raunchy or over-the-line comedy, but I didn’t quite feel he brought anything new to the table this time. He proved once again he can believably deliver heartfelt dialogue and make the audience care, but that was a doubt he previously shattered in Knocked Up. I laughed at the moments he wanted me to, yet I still felt he won’t be overly remembered for this performance. Skipping up alongside Rogen is Elizabeth Banks as Miri. Banks is also not a stranger to fans of Apatow with her side character turn in The 40-Year Old Virgin, but she has been equally busy in recent history on a number of other projects as well. In this movie she tries to show us the internal struggle of a woman fighting to keep her most important friendship strictly platonic, while also filming a porn flick to save her from being evicted. What woman hasn’t gone through that? She has her share of moments, but again doesn’t leave anything completely memorable for the exiting audience. On other parts of the casting front we see some familiar names from Smith’s View Askew-niverse; Jason Mewes, or more commonly known as Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, and Jeff Anderson, who has been delighting audiences as Randal since Clerks. Mewes plays Lester, the low budget porn actor with incredibly useful talents and a well versed knowledge of any and all sexual techniques. Half of his dialogue, funny as it may be, comes off like a recital from urbandictionary.com. Anderson joins in as Deacon, the cameraman-cum-editor who finds himself in the most precarious of positions. Also well known to comedy fans is Craig Robinson, who in this film plays Delaney, Zack’s co-worker and newly crowned porn producer, but to most of the television audience out there he is better known as Darryl, the big, bad plant worker from The Office. Craig is on a hot streak right now many actors spend their lives dreaming for and the best part of it is, we the audience get the benefit of watching his comedic genius even more. Popping in to give the movie some realistic porn flavor are Katie Morgan and Traci Lords, the former a current adult film star and the latter one of the few to retire and make a mainstream transition.

There is one more person worth mentioning and I made sure to save the best for last, even giving him his own paragraph. Justin Long, a terribly underrated actor, turns in the most hilarious performance as Brandon, the gay porn star who first inspires the wild idea in Zack’s head. He only has two scenes in the film, one of which you must stay halfway through the credits to watch, but trust me, it is totally worth the wait. I shudder to think how many takes were blown when other actors lost their composure watching Long in this role. He grabs a hold of this utterly ridiculous persona and never lets go, practically daring the other actors to break character. His performance alone raised the score of this movie a full point in my book.

Recommendation: True die hards of the Kevin Smith clan might not be blown away by this, but it could possibly reach a broader audience previously turned off by Kevin’s normal banter and intentionally clever writing. It doesn’t end up on the bottom of my Smith totem pole (you’re still safe down there, Jersey Girl), but it does make me readjust what I expect to see from him in the future. Same skill, less nerdy wit.

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