Friday, November 14, 2008

421 - Zack and Miri Make a Porno review



“Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” The title is accurate. Kevin Smith’s latest comedy concerns the efforts of Zack and Miri, lifelong platonic mates, to satisfy a need for substantial cash. Lacking both decent jobs and any shred of dignity, the two decide that pornography is the solution to their dire financial straits. Hilarity and romance ensues, of course.

Zack is played by Seth Rogen, that goofily charming actor who specializes in loveable louts. Miri is played by Elizabeth Banks, who seems to be popping up in everything from “W.” to this. Considering that she’s supposed to be a slob, her hair is always loaded with enough product to pay rent three times over, but never mind.

The two are roommates and friends without benefits. “Why mess things up with sex?” Zack asks rhetorically, the sort of question no real 28-year-old man would field when addressing the issue of his attractive gal pal. To have sex with or not to have sex with my attractive friend: that age-old question virtually no real people have (or stop) to ask.

As Zack and Miri recruit a cast and crew, prep a set, and talk nonstop about sex, the two begin to realize they have been in love all along. What a couple of geniuses, these two. It’s one of the film’s great issues that two people who lack the intellectual resources and drive to keep the power from being shut off are also capable of producing an elaborate pornographic film with little money and amateur assistance. “Star Whores” is the porno’s title. Guess the theme.

Although written and directed by Kevin Smith, the concept and sex-driven plot, as well as the casting, give “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” the feel of a Judd Apatow comedy. Smith’s films, such as “Clerks” or “Chasing Amy,” are largely character-driven talkies filled with bawdy dialogue, raunchy gags, and references to his earlier works. His latest feels like an attempt to ape the success of the hard-R hits such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” though his characters have the tendency to talk endlessly without developing. Smith-style gabbery doesn’t mix well with an Apatow-sytle plot.

Take Zack and Miri’s blossoming love. They get along great, but until the last half-hour, Smith drops no hints that the couple has romantic inclinations towards one another. Why not include a scene or two where one or the other performs an act of gentle kindness, or demonstrates unease at the other’s sexual misadventures? In effect, Smith makes the mistake of asking us to do the writing that he should have by having us fill in blanks that shouldn’t be empty in the first place.

Smith can pen a joke, though. “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is consistently funny, Smith’s ear for amusing banter being put to good (if not full) use here. But have you ever seen a film that successfully mines belligerent employees for humor? I can think of two: "Bad Santa" and Smith's own "Clerks." Here, the joke is tired, especially if you've ever encountered a pointlessly rude cashier.

The film ultimately is enjoyable enough, and Zack and Miri do realize that if they’re going to participate in something positively soul-crushing, then they might as well have fun doing it. Sex can help with fun, but what a hangover it can cause.


2.5 out of 5

2 comments:

Clare said...

Nothing else matters but how fricken hilarious this movie is. Plus, you didn't comment on any of the cast besides Seth or Elizabeth. The cast is a very very large part of the feeling of the movie. Its more an ensemble than a lot of other features out right now.

James said...

I wrote this review for the WCF Courier and they tend to want articles with around 500 words in them. This means that once in a while I end up neglecting to mention an otherwise notable aspect of the film in order to focus on something more important to the review, unfortunately.

Comedies are difficult for me because I don't ultimately judge them merely on how funny they are. By the humor-only standard, this one certainly was no slouch, even though Smith gets lazy at times. It was the weaknesses in the story and the aesthetics that resulted in a slightly negative review from me.