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Sunday, November 02, 2008 

Go Hard

'Zack & Miri Make A Porno' director Smith suffers from an identity crisis



Pittsburgh residents Zack and Miri have been slacker roommates and best friends since graduating high school ten years ago. After recent financial crisis, inadvertant internet celebrity and a chance meeting with a porn star at their humiliating high school reunion all conveniently intersect, Zack hatches a plot to use all of the above as the impetus to make his own amateur adult movie to get them out of debt. He enlists the aid of his co-worker Delaney (The Office's Craig Robinson, a scene-stealing machine) to act as producer, a hockey buddy Deacon (Jeff "Randall Graves" Anderson) as his cameraman and through an audition process hires "Bubbles" (a droll and boring Traci Lords), Stacey (the perpetually perky Katie Morgan), Barry (Ricky Mabe) and Lester (Jason Mewes, more than willing to provide the full-frontal male nudity) to round out the cast of -- what else would a porn parody be called in a Kevin Smith movie? -- "Star Whores." During the filming of their homemade project, Zack and Miri discover feelings for one another that they didn't know they had.

Don't believe the hype. For all the highly-publicized battles with the MPAA over the final rating, banned movie posters, television spots conveniently changing the title depending on what hour they aired and how outrageous and controversial Kevin Smith would like you to believe Zack & Miri Make a Porno is, it is completely underwhelming.



I went in expecting to be pleasantly surprised with non-stop and full-on hilarity in the same vein as Clerks II (a movie I thought would be a surefire disappointment and a self-serving grab at the cash) but Zack and Miri comes up short and ironically enough, this seems to be the movie where Smith is finally taking aim at crossover appeal. I didn't see anything here that would even warrant a very hard R much less an NC-17 rating. Other than the overabundance of coarse language (which feels it's there just for the sake of being there) that seems to have replaced the usual wit and pop culture ruminations of Smith's characters and the nudity, which is a lot less frequent than the title would lead you to imagine, I can't see how anyone would find this movie any more offensive than any number of potty-mouthed, toilet-humor movies that have preceded it. It's not that I wanted or needed anything more intense or graphic but the filming of the actual porno seemed fairly comical, over-the-top and tame considering all the fuss that's been made over the past few months.

It's as if Smith had a great idea for a romantic comedy but was missing something that would sell it so in between seeing cameos by the likes of Stormy, Nautica Thorn, Jenna Haze and Aurora Snow in Judd Apatow's movies (the 40 Year Old Virgin director who has seen significant more success than Smith following a slightly dumbed down version of the blueprint one could say Smith created yet Apatow improved upon it by having actual craft and utilizing way better comedic acting talent) and seeing Katie Morgan on HBO, he came up with the implausible "make a porno" slant and quickly jotted down the rest of this threadbare script on a napkin. This is very obviously an "I've got a cool title and I'll just write a movie around it" movie and it shows. In fact, Miri is so underdeveloped as a character that I still don't know what it is she even did for a living (which is a shame because Elizabeth Banks might very well be the best thing here). Apparently out of ideas, Smith even harkens back to Clerks (I know, surprise surprise) when "Star Whores"' first location gets destroyed and Zack decides to shoot the movie where he works after hours, the same way Smith famously shot Clerks at night in the convenience store where he was employed.



Zack and Miri isn't going to do itself any favors as far as other Apatow comparisons go, either; for the first twenty minutes I thought that's exactly what I was watching, not to mention Smith takes the liberty of casting about half of Apatow's regular and peripheral players (check out Gerry Bednob basically being "Mooj" from 4YOV all over again, this time as Zack's boss at the Bean-N-Gone coffee shop, Seth Rogen remains the very same unattractive yet sincere and loveable schlub he is in Knocked Up and that's just for starters). Smith has deviated from the conventions he more or less created to make an Apatow-a-like movie in an attempt to finally reach the broader audience that has managed to elude him but in the process lost the rambling yet unique dialogue and inherent charm that I go to see Kevin Smith movies for. On the bright side, there are a few comical cameos in the form of Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Tisha Campbell-Martin and for eagle-eyed porn fans, Pittsburgh's own Ricki Raxxx gets a few seconds of screen time.

It's a considerable stretch to believe that two life-long pals could only come to the realization they they're in love with each other after having their backs against the wall to the point where they have to have onscreen sex. But the promise of a Kevin Smith movie got me into the theater, which was entirely the point. But I should leave feeling satisfied that Smith delivered what he promised, not that I got duped. And ninety minutes later I felt more like a sucker than a proud Smith acolyte. This is not what I go to see his movies for. It's a shame that after years of inspiring others, Kevin Smith is no longer content to be himself.

We're about to take this shit back to the message board days, son.

it is completely underwhelming.

As a story, I completely agree. As a comedy, I don't. Smith looks to be going for a bit of a Chasing Amy flick here, but the characters are too underdeveloped to generate those sorts of results on screen. The first act is packed to the brim with hilarious quips, though. There's a real decline in said laughs once they get rolling on the actual porn making and that's where the Chasing Amy sentimentality should have come in to play. There's just not enough substance in that respect, though, so a lot of Smith wants us to digest feels contrived.

I didn't see anything here that would even warrant a very hard R much less an NC-17 rating.

I'm right there with you. After my friends and I left the theater, we briefly talked about the movie's rating. I hadn't paid much attention to the apparent controversy over it and had my friends not brought it up after, I wouldn't have even questioned if such controversy had taken place. From a dialogue standpoint, both Clerks are far more graphic than just about anything in this one. There's the simulating sex here, but as you said, it's done in such an over-the-top way that you'd have to be a real prude to let that offend you. That's especially true if you went in to the movie being even vaguely familiar with Smith's resume.

Zack and Miri isn't going to do itself any favors as far as Apatow comparisons go; for the first twenty minutes I thought that's exactly what I was watching, not to mention Smith takes the liberty of casting about half of Apatow's regular and peripheral players

Were it not for the opening credits, I would've forgot Smith had anything to do with this movie. I've gotten to the point where if I see Seth Rogen, I automatically assume Judd Apatow has some creative connection to the project. As someone who's enjoyed all of Apatow's movie projects, I can't say I was upset by this, though it does make me a bit unnerved to think about the inevitable point where the general public grows tired of paying eight or nine bucks to see the same people play the same general characters under the umbrella of not terribly distinguishable stories.

check out Gerry Bednob basically being "Mooj" from 4YOV all over again, this time as Zack's boss at the Bean-N-Gone coffee shop, Seth Rogen remains the very same unattractive yet sincere and loveable schlub he is in Knocked Up and that's just for starters

I've been a fan of Rogen's underachieving, sarcastic character since his Freaks & Geeks days (though I have similar concerns about him that I mentioned above), but Gerry Bednob's character is one of the most unnecessary parts about Zack & Miri. He's the EXACT same character he played in 40YOV and that character didn't have a ton of staying power. Since he's not even a necessary part of the plot after his lone appearance, I fail to see the need to have him here at all. Anyone could've been brought in to play a pissy manager role. Why not bring in someone different?

It's a shame that after years of inspiring others, Kevin Smith is no longer content to be himself.

I consider him a great writer in limited areas. He bled the Jersey arc dry and was at least wise enough to put a bit of closure on that string of movies (though Clerks II sort of undid that). I can't act like I didn't thoroughly enjoy the movie, but again, I'm right there with you vis-a-vis Smith. My enjoyment of the movie had nothing to do with anything Smith did and everything to do with the cast. Their characters were all razor thin, but most of them have enough comedic presence to overcome that fact and deliver a comedy that shouldn't get tossed in with the White Chicks of the world.

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Alena

www.sunscreenstips.com

Alex - You took it back, kid. Thanks for reminding me why we're friends in the first place.

Juliet - I appreciate the comment. How'd you find the blog? Glad to entertain you and hopefully you'll find more reasons to keep coming back.

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