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Dustin Putman

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Zack and Miri Make a Porno  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Kevin Smith.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Justin Long, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Brandon Routh, Gerry Bednob, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Jennifer Schwalbach, Anne Wade, Jim Norton.
2008 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong crude sexual content, graphic nudity and pervasive language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 24, 2008.
"Zach and Miri Make a Porno" has been garnering controversy over its title, with some printing publications and television networks refusing to advertise its last three words. It's a ridiculous case of puritanical hypocrisy. If parents are worried about their kids seeing it, well, those kids too young to already know what a porno is probably can't read yet. And, if asked, why can't the parent simply tell them it's an adult matter and not for them? Problem solved. No one complained when "Sex and the City" came out a few months ago.

This fiasco aside, the very R-rated "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is a compulsively watchable comedy, balls-out (literally and figuratively) and kind of adorable, too. In making only his second feature outside of the View Askew universe, writer-director Kevin Smith (2006's "Clerks II") sticks with what he knows and has come up with something at least better than 2004's "Jersey Girl." As bawdy and enjoyable a romp as it is, though, Smith falls into a trap that no filmmaker as savvy as him should: he writes beneath the natural intelligence of his two lead characters.

Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miriam Linky (Elizabeth Banks) have been best friends practically forever. Sharing an apartment together in the frigid Pennsylvania town of Monroeville, they are hopelessly behind on their bills and the arrival of their ten-year high school reunion only sheds further light on their crummy circumstances. When their water, electricity and heat all get turned off, drastic measures are in order. Zack's off-the-cuff idea of making a porno and reaping the benefits sounds totally crazy, but he and Miri agree that it's their only shot of getting out of the financial hole they are in. When their plans to make "Star Whores" fall through, they alter their location to the Bean-N-Gone Coffee Shop Zack works at, bringing their actors and crew with them for after-hours shoots. That Zack and Miri have chosen to share one of the film's sex scenes shouldn't be a big deal—it's strictly business, they reason—but their growing romantic feelings for each other in the midst of this crazy project cannot be denied.

Kevin Smith always has a good ear for dialogue, and he shows that skill off throughout most of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." The characters, as is the case in real life, casually name-drop internet sites, movies, actors and other pop-cultural references into their everyday conversation, and the ebbs and flows of natural speech accompany these interactions. A running gag involving a viral video of Miri wearing granny panties that everyone recognizes her for is silly, yet plausible in today's day and age. Beyond that, the film's comedy relies on raunchiness of the sex and bodily function variety (there are no farts, but there is much, much worse), as well as just plain outrageous ideas. When Delaney (Craig Robinson), Zack's coworker and makeshift producer, suggests that "Revenge of the Shit" be the title of the all-anal final installment in the "Star Whores" saga, it's so out-there that it's hilarious.

The love story that the picture ultimately turns into is uneven. On the one hand, Seth Rogen (2008's "Pineapple Express") and Elizabeth Banks (2008's "W.") are amiable and charming as onscreen friends, even when driven to do desperate or pathetic things. As romantic partners, they surprisingly work just as well; some scenes between them become uncomfortable to watch because they are so intimate. The issue with their predictable will-they-or-won't-they conflict is Kevin Smith's insistence to dumb these characters down. For someone as knowledgeable as he is about film, why would he set up a clumsy misunderstanding between Zack and Miri where, at any time, either one of them could have spoken up with the truth and solved the whole thing? Zack, in particular, has the chance to positively clear up to Miri a key plot point, but frustratingly says nothing. Miri, meanwhile, acts so stubborn about her genuine affections that you feel like snatching the script away from her and smartening both protagonists up.

And yet—and this is a big "yet"—"Zack and Miri Make a Porno" ends up working enough that the viewer forgives it for its flaws. The supporting cast is a lot of fun, with Craig Robinson (2007's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"), as the begrudgingly henpecked Delaney; Smith regular Jason Mewes, as talented, uninhibited camera performer Lester; and real-life porn star Katie Morgan, attempting to go legit and doing a bang-up job as stripper-turned-actress Stacey, sticking out. Smith's music selections are also well-chosen, from the late-'90s music at the high school graduation (LEN's infectious "Steal My Sunshine," The Jesus and Mary Chain's rhapsodic "Just Like Honey") to the rest of it (Climax Blues Band's "I Love You" beautifully underscores the last scene).

"Zack and Miri Make a Porno" could have afforded a reworking in regards to how the central characters finally get together—the thought to put one of them on the toilet during the climactic make-up scene is a new one, however—but the tone is so light and inoffensive and the pacing so effortless that it's difficult to harp on it too much. In the lead roles, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are an initially unlikely match whose chemistry turns out to be made in romantic comedy heaven. They have that same something that Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan had in 1989's "When Harry Met Sally." They're the heart of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." The rest of the ensemble provide the other body parts.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman