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Entries in Zack and Miri Make a Porno [2008] (1)

Sunday
Nov092008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Touched in a Special Place

About fifteen minutes into Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I started to panic. "Oh, God," I thought, "this is so not funny. Please stop saying 'Fuck'. Please stop saying 'Fuck'. Please stop saying 'Fuck'"...

Sure, there are things to love about the beginning of the picture, but the dialogue are not among them--and one doesn't attend a Kevin Smith movie for the innovative camera angles. What I love about the way Smith establishes the world of Zack and Miri--the only film, other than Jersey girl (which doesn't really count as a film anyway), to take place outside of his "Jersey Trilogy" universe (which consists of six movies)--is the way in which he manages to depict poverty. I can't think of a recent mainstream picture whose protagonists claim to be down-and-out, and whose day-to-day struggles make me believe it; platonic roommates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are broke broke: they can't afford heat or electricity or water, and they tool around Pittsburgh in a car that seems to be held together by hope and electrical tape. The movie is set in winter, and Smith sells the frost and the desperation masterfully...

What he didn't sell me on was the characters, not initially. Zack works at a coffee-chain satellite, under the distrustful watch of his S.I.B. (Stereotypical Indian Boss), played by Gerry Bednob--who also played the S.I.B. in The 40-Year-Old-Virgin with the same laughless charisma that comes from watching an old man say words like "Fuck" and "Cock" in a thick, foreign accent. More "hilarity" ensues when Zack's black co-worker, Delaney (Craig Robinson), is asked to work on "Black Friday". I invite you to imagine the genuine comic possibilities that could arise from such a scenario, and promptly forget about seeing them played out in this movie...

Let's rush into the good stuff, shall we? Zack and Miri attend their 10-year high school reunion. Miri has a mind to seduce her old boyfriend in the hopes that he'll rescue her from a life of sex-less poverty. Zack is simply trolling for poon. The first half of this sequence is truly uninspired, but when Justin ("I'm a Mac") Long appears on-screen as a gay porn star, Zack and Miri Make a Porno becomes an entirely different, worthwhile movie...

Through a series of madcap events, our heroes decide to shoot a low-budget skin-flick, starring themselves and a bizarre cast of local "talent", believing that they can sell enough copies to get the utilities working and perhaps earn some walking money. The misfits of their movie include Jason Mewes as an on-demand-erection guru, and porn stars Traci Lords and Katie Morgan. Smith regular Jeff Anderson shows up, too, as the cameraman whose sole purpose is to be the butt of one of the most genuinely surprising and hilarious moments I've ever seen on film (it shouldn't have been that surprising, given the fact that the gag was clearly set up in an earlier scene, but Smith deftly misdirected the audience with a powerful story point just before the moment of truth)...

The porn shoot is derailed temporarily due to an ill-timed demolition of the set (which is a shame, as I'd like to have seen a bit more of Star Whores), and the gang is forced to use the coffee shop as an alternate location. These scenes are pretty funny, with the requisite bad-acting and boom-mic antics, but they are not the heart of the picture. This is a romantic comedy, above all else, and it is in the blossoming relationship of Zack and Miri where Kevin Smith soars. Banks and Rogen are going to fall in love; they are going to doubt the advancement of their friendship; they are going to be awkward in the sex scene they must perform for the porno. None of this will come as a surprise to fans of the rom-com (or the haters of same). What is revelatory about this movie is the way Smith plays with the traps of the genre and gives the audience something comfortably familiar, but also refreshingly honest and unexpected. The aforementioned sex scene, for instance, in lesser hands would have been played for laughs; what we get instead is hot lovemaking; Smith directs his actors to perform as real people rather than movie characters...

The film is not perfect. It could've used another edit or two--especially in that troublesome opening quarter-hour--but like the best of Kevin Smith's pictures, it leaves behind the joy of having experienced a movie that is very, very funny and huge on heart. Like Clerks II, which ranks high on my list of the best sequels ever made--no, I'm not kidding--Zack and Miri Make a Porno aims for honesty and hits the mark. I know that Judd Apatow is the current King of Comedy--and almost the entire main cast hails from The Forty-Year-Old Virgin--but where his films tend to be heavy on improv and last thirty to forty minutes too long, Kevin Smith has mastered the tight comedy script and concise run-time. I'll take economy over jokey bombast any day.

NOTE: If you live in the United States, you're not likely to see the above poster in your multiplex. This is the "too-controversial-for-virginal-American-audiences" international poster. Yeah, that is fucking ridiculous. The U.S. one-sheet shows stick figure cartoons of the main characters, which, to me, harkens back to Colin Powell's U.N. address: it, too, featured drawings instead of photographs...