Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks audition new talent as Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. Written and directed by Kevin Smith. Rated R.
Adult Film

Kevin Smith and his leads are a winning threesome in this porn comedy.


What must Kevin Smith have thought the first time he saw Seth Rogen act? The word “man-crush” springs to mind. Let’s face it, if you’re a writer-director whose films are as personal as Smith’s, it must be purest ecstasy to find an actor who can stand in for you, someone who closely resembles you physically and temperamentally, not to mention being a much more talented and charismatic performer. Rogen, of course, is too gifted a comic actor to spend the rest of his career as Kevin Smith’s boy toy. Still, their new comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno shows that he fills that role pretty well.
Rogen plays Zack Brown and Elizabeth Banks plays Miriam Linky, best friends since childhood who’ve spent several years sharing an apartment while working crappy jobs in the downmarket Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville. (This is one Kevin Smith film that doesn’t take place in New Jersey.) Though their close quarters have given them many occasions to see each other naked, they’ve never considered having sex with each other until the day they’re confronted with a stack of unpaid bills and the possibility of becoming homeless. That’s when Zack hits on the idea of making money by producing their own adult film, with themselves in the lead roles. Zack’s enthusiasm for the project is expressed in typical Kevin Smith terms: “Look at that guy Joe Francis from Girls Gone Wild. That guy’s the biggest idiot piece of shit around, and he’s got his own jet and his own island!”
Interestingly, the two lead actors are never nude on screen. If you’re worried that the rest of the film will be similarly discreet, don’t be. It’s a Kevin Smith movie about porn, for God’s sake. There are fripping great wodges of nudity (by supporting actors Jason Mewes and real-life porn star Katie Morgan) and gags that push the edges of raunch until you’re ready to pass out. Smith hasn’t been this exuberantly filthy since Clerks. That movie taught you the meaning of “snowball” as a sexual term, and this movie will teach you the meaning of “Dutch rudder.” Also reminiscent of Smith’s earliest work are Zack and Miri’s attempts to think of a title for their adult film, which lead to some pornic riffing on all six entries in the Star Wars canon. (The Phantom Man Ass — cute! Revenge of the Shit — not cute!) Some of the funniest stuff comes from Justin Long’s scene-stealing turn as an over-sharing gay porn star who’s all too willing to discuss the details of his work with strangers. Dirty as that is, it can’t match a gag that’ll crack you up and make you want to run home and shower: The one with the movie’s cameraman (Jeff Anderson) trying to film a sex scene from an unusual angle. Let’s just say he pays a steep price for it.
For all that, the movie feels of a piece with the best recent Hollywood comedies, and it’s strange to contemplate how mainstream entertainment has come around to Kevin Smith. The financial and critical success of Knocked Up, Superbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall has shown us that women will sit still for the breast and penis jokes if there’s a good romantic story at the movie’s center and that men will sit still for the sappiest love story if it’s overlaid with good smutty humor. Zack and Miri reminds us that Smith was making movies in this vein when Judd Apatow and his buddies were still cutting their teeth on TV.
Even better, Miri isn’t held up as the grown-up in this relationship who has to drag Zack into adulthood. If anything, she’s as much of an arrested case as he is. Maybe this isn’t progress from a feminist standpoint, but it does give Banks a few opportunities (there could have been more) to grab her own share of laughs from her outsized co-star. She makes the most of them, most memorably in a deliciously embarrassing early scene where Miri comes on to a gorgeous guy at her high-school reunion (played by Superman himself, Brandon Routh) and only succeeds in making herself look spastic and desperate. Adding to that impression is the fact that she’s “dressed like Hannah Montana,” in Zack’s accurate deDELETEion.
Shocking as some of the gags are, none of the story developments here are at all surprising. Zack and Miri keep telling themselves and each other that having sex won’t change their friendship, and you can easily see where it’s all headed. What saves this part of the movie are the performances of Rogen and Banks, who make the fallout of their filmed sexual encounter seem real and keep the charm from leaking out of this movie. Over the course of Smith’s career, his movies have consistently been marred by poor acting from the leading man (Clerks and its sequel) or the leading lady (everything else). A realization clicks into place when you’re watching this: This is what a Kevin Smith movie looks like when the lead actors are up to the job. It looks good.

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