by Mel Valentin
Kevin Smith’s Smith ("Clerks I and II," "Jersey Girl," "Jay and Silent Boy Strike Back," "Dogma," "Chasing Amy") latest film, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is crude, rude, vulgar, gross, disgusting, obscene, and profane. Then again, despite not being set in the so-called “Askewuniverse,” "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is most definitely a Kevin Smith film. Why would anyone expect anything else from a Kevin Smith film? When you strip away the profanity, vulgarity, and gross-out humor from "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," however, the end result is a romantic comedy that’s conventional, predictable, formulaic, and unsurprisingly, self-indulgent.Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are longtime platonic friends and roommates. The mere idea of a romantic liaison or a romantic relationship leaves them cold (not literally, of course). Cold is where they live and work: Monroeville, Pennsylvania, a small city outside Pittsburgh best known among horror fans for its connection to George A. Romero’s zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. With its gray, cold weather and limited economic opportunities, Monroeville holds little appeal to Zack and Miri, slacker types who can’t pay the rent or their utility bills, but they don’t see a way out. After a disastrous high school reunion where Miri finds out her high school crush, Bobby Long (Brandon Routh), is gay and living with a gay porn star, Brandon St. Randy (Justin Long), and their electricity and power turned off for non-payment, Zack and Miri face the prospect of becoming homeless days before Thanksgiving.
"A romantic comedy (with porn). Seriously."
Drinking their sorrows away at a local bar, they eventually hit on a money-making scheme: making their own semi-professional porno. Since they’re penniless, they enlist Zack’s co-worker and friend, Delaney (Craig Robinson), and his stash of cash meant for a flat-screen TV. After holding auditions, they settle on Stacey (Katie Morgan), a stripper, Lester (Jason Mewes), who’s always wanted to be porn star, Bubbles (Traci Lords), an adult entertainer with a unique talent, and Deacon (Jeff Anderson), his cameraman (and goalie for a local hockey team, the Monroeville Zombies). Before they can start production, however, they need to come up with a clever name for their film and a “story” (more or less) connecting the sex scenes. Set for a sex scene together, Zack and Miri are forced to face their real feelings (if any) they each have for each other.
For all the profanity-laced tirades and seemingly endless pop culture references (e.g., Star Wars again, Dawn of the Dead) that scream "hipper-than-thou" (well at least it did ten years ago), Kevin Smith is a conventional filmmaker. Calling Kevin Smith a "filmmaker" may be stretching the meaning of the word beyond the breaking point. Let's just call Smith what he really is: an incredibly lucky writer, director, and sometime "actor" (yes, quotation marks are necessary in describing Smith's overbroad acting) who's been trading on his geek credentials for over a decade, to slowly diminishing returns commercially and critically.
As Smith’s fanboys have grown up, Smith's films have underperformed, box office wise. As the writer, director, sometime editor, and occasional actor, though, Smith isn't exactly expensive. Like Woody Allen, Smith makes character-driven comedies cheaply which, in turn, guarantee a minimal return on investment and with that minimal return, the opportunity to continue working as a writer-director. Smith's diehard fanbase, though, has dwindled over time, so it's not surprising that Smith wanted to work with Seth Rogen, an actor whose last three comedies, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Knocked Up (two of which he wrote or co-wrote), did extremely well, box office wise.It was a smart move on Smith’s part as Rogen helps to cover up some of Smith’s weaknesses as a writer (and director). Smith’s over-reliance on profanity and gross-out humor (e.g., oral and anal sex jokes) gets tiresome fast (not that Smith would have noticed). Without engaging, charismatic leads (and yes, Rogen has charisma, even if it’s slacker-loser-dude charisma) and a solid supporting cast, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" would have been even more underwhelming than it already is. If anything, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is an object lesson on good casting: it can keep the audience one or two steps away from tedium, but not much else. For Smith, that seems to be enough. For everyone else who isn’t already a Kevin Smith fan, it won’t be.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17352&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/01/08 03:00:00