Kevin Smith Borrows From Judd Apatow in 'Zack and Miri'

City Pulse | October 27, 2008
p>Kevin Smith hasn't matured enough to actually make a good comedy, but he has accrued enough casting wisdom to elevate his latest homegrown material with the effervescent Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogan. Smith's slacker-inspired script follows childhood-pals-turned-roommates Zack (Rogan) and Miri (Banks) whose Pittsburgh existence has fallen below the poverty line of having heat and running water. Zack gets a bright idea for the pair to make a porno movie with some financial help from his coffee shop co-worker Delaney (Craig Robinson), and soon the team are using the coffee shop as a night time movie set. Vulgarities abound and the spotty humor comes and goes like sweat drops on a sauna floor. Brandon Routh (Superman) and Justin Long steal their scenes as a "couple" of gay porn actors, but it's Rogan and Banks as would-be lovers unclear on the concept that keeps the movie watchable.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno can't help coming off as a Judd Apatow knock-off with the double-edged sword of Rogan (Superbad) and Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) sauntering through their romantically inclined roles with ease. Behind Smith's last two duds (Jersey Girl, Clerks II), the casting points to an effort to connect with a new generation of young audiences that expect a more sophisticated, yet raunchy, level of comedy not available in this under-reaching attempt at keeping up with his betters.

You sense a tonal problem early on in a racially charged scene between Delaney (an African American) and his Asian boss. The n-word flies with a resounding thud that lingers, and brings into question Smith's control over his own comic material that skews oddly asexual in spite of its overtly profane trappings. Smith rallies together cast regulars Jeff Anderson and Jason Mews as a director of photography and ever-ready porn actor respectively, along with an underused Traci Lords and secondary performances from Katie Morgan (Porn 101) and Ricky Mabe, as an on-set peanut gallery to the main event of Zack and Miri's carnal awakening.

Potential mainstream inspired porn titles like Laurence of a Labia and F@#kback Mountain are bandied about before the group settles on Star Whores title to give their movie a pop culture correlation. However screenwriter Smith backs out of the potentially humorous sci-fi setting with a plot feint that defaults to the coffee shop setting to serve as a background for the simulated bumping and grinding that follows. Zack attempts to carefully control the actors' couplings so that Miri will only have sex with him. The decision doesn't sit so well with Miri who resents Zack's apparent hypocritical attitude toward such monogamy for himself.

Low level laughs finally give way to the sensitive crux of the movie when Zack and Miri discover a long delayed mutual attraction. Once the focus shifts away from the one note sex gag joke, it starts to gel into a more lively story that could have made for a more fulfilling movie had it come sooner. Kevin Smith remains a high-functioning student filmmaker trapped in a clumsy worldview that limits his ability to parody even such an easy mark as a young couple using pornography as a way to elevate their economic and emotional status. The fact that Smith wasn't able to mitigate his film's sexual setting enough to get an R rating might lead some audiences to expect more explicit content than is here, but by now those same audiences should know that Smith's films are generally a disappointment.

(The Weinstein Company) Rated NC-17. 101 mins. (C) (Two Stars)
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