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Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Like Fellini’s “8 1/2,” writer-director Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” fictionalizes the filmmaker’s own career aspirations through the gauze covered lens of sideways self-mythologizing. Mirroring Smith’s breakout debut “Clerks,” “Zack and Miri” is based on the premise that a group of pals can kiss minimum wage slavery goodbye simply by stitching together a raunchy flick that can be sold back to like-minded true believers. Smith’s latest reaffirms the director’s position as Hollywood’s ultimate underachiever. Neither the presence of Judd Apatow regulars nor the spiffy technical work can hide the fact that Smith has never been much of a visual storyteller. Instead, his greatest gift remains his ear for blue dialogue, which wallpapers nearly every square inch of “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”

Some Smith supporters might fawn over what passes for the movie’s heart, in this case the time-honored premise that two childhood playmates, despite the platonic boundaries of their longtime friendship, are really meant to be together as happily-ever-after lovers. In Smith’s world, these protagonists (not to mention the rest of the cast), curse like longshoremen, and their idea of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” entrepreneurship is to slap together an X-rated quickie just to be able to pay the water and electric bills.

Given the large number of “Zack and Miri” cast members who have appeared in recent Apatow-produced or directed comedies, Smith has taken some lumps for rehashing, reheating, and perhaps attempting to cash in on Apatow’s market. To be fair, Smith has long favored the blend of potty-mouthed vulgarity and romantic traditionalism packaged so expertly by Apatow, but one cannot help feeling that “Zack and Miri” suffers in comparison to “Knocked Up” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” A few Smith stalwarts, including Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, are on hand, although Mewes is nowhere near as much fun in the role of porn wannabe Lester as he is when playing his signature role of marijuana-addled Jay.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” never approaches the cleverness of “Chasing Amy” (still Smith’s best work), but it does transcend fairly low expectations in a couple of scenes, including a pre-Thanksgiving high school reunion and the brief tease of a “Star Wars”-inspired porn parody. The former, which captures a certain degree of the desperation felt by people in their late 20s faced with the prospect of explaining their lack of success to former classmates, stunt-casts Justin Long as Brandon Routh’s lover. The latter disappears almost as quickly as it arrives, as if Smith began to worry that a Dianoga dildo might raise the ire of George Lucas.

As the title pair, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks work up a sweat trying to act their way around the blandness of their characters as conceived by Smith. The homogeneity of the director’s creations – nearly all Smith’s mouthpieces think and speak alike – is the movie’s central deficiency. With the exception of Craig Robinson, the other members of Zack and Miri’s unlikely family of pornographers are flat and unformed as recognizable human beings. We learn nothing, for example, about Traci Lords’ Bubbles beyond her signature sexual talent. Had the movie been as funny as it is earnest, one might have overlooked these flaws.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/3/08.

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