Zack and Miri make an okay comedy

by Glen Baity

Kevin Smith, for all his faults as a filmmaker, is gifted at a few things. I’m not sure if this is something he’d brag about, but for instance: He has a knack for disguising his inner John Hughes in unconventional ways. Take Zack and Miri Make a Porno. You won’t find a safer, more by-the-numbers love story in any movie theater this year. It just so happens that this little romance takes place, as the title indicates, on the set of an adult film, which means it’s dressed up (or undressed, if you prefer) with a lot of vulgar flash to shock the squares.

But adjust your outrage meters accordingly: The porn is only a gimmick. It’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect from the guy who once cast Alanis Morrissette as God. Smith loves to get cheeky with his audience, and he gives you the full moon in Zack and Miri. The film’s two title characters (played by Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) are longtime platonic friends and roommates. Like so many before them, they’re also unrepentant slackers who get a bit depressed after a trip to their high school reunion, and they get an extra kick in the teeth when their power and water are shut off on the night before Thanksgiving. When they can’t afford to pay the rent, they decide to make some easy money with a bargain-basement skin flick. They recruit a few friends from the View Askew stable, including Jeff Anderson of Clerks fame and Jason “Jay” Mewes, as well as a few real-life porn stars (Katie Morgan and Traci Lords). And right on schedule, when it’s time to pair up for scenes, Zack and Miri’s dormant feelings for each other start to flare up. Rogen and Banks are both winning actors, and they work really well together as Zack and Miri. Craig Robinson turns in another funny supporting role as the porno’s reluctant financier (he must choose between funding the film or buying a flat-screen TV, which seems like a difficult decision). It’s all pleasant enough, but it’s far from perfect. Some scenes are allowed to run on too long, and a lot of the jokes feel stale (a running gag about Miri’s YouTube stardom is the worst kind of reheated pop culture reference). The problems with Zack and Miri aren’t huge, but they’re the same problems Kevin Smith has in all his movies. Most noticeable — to me, anyway — is that Smith remains incapable of writing dialogue that sounds like anyone other than Kevin Smith. The lines are often funny, but none of the characters deliver them in a unique voice. This used to not bother me so much, but just as Clerks was his treatise on wage slavery and Dogma was his treatise on religion, Zack and Miri bundles up all his many, many thoughts on pornography and delivers them with a love story that’s as innocent and dull as they come. Here’s the thing, though: Unlike some of his earlier films, which brought a fresh perspective to their subject matter, Smith doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say about porn. He clearly enjoys it, and bully for him, but that’s about all the viewer can gather from the film’s use of it as a plot device. Smith’s well-documented wrangling with the MPAA over the film’s rating (it originally received an NC-17, but was argued down to an R) was, in the end, nothing but a sideshow. There’s a sweet story at the core of the film, but it’s the same story you can find in roughly 10,000 other romantic comedies released this year. Will the best friends get over their fears and realize they were made for each other? It’s as predictable as… well, as a porno.

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