Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Jeff Anderson. Rated R.
It’s been 14 years since Kevin Smith made a noisy debut with
Clerks, his low-rent,
pop-culture-obsessed comedy about man’s struggle against the mind-numbing
boredom of a dead-end job. If Smith’s directorial style seemed unrefined back
then, he more than compensated with dialogue as unapologetically subversive as
it was funny and honest.
While Smith has matured to some degree as a storyteller,
there is no escaping his undiminished fondness for raunchy, juvenile humor,
which he indulges as liberally as one might expect in Zack and Miri Make a
Porno. Whether he’s splattering his
characters with bodily waste or poking gentle fun at their tentative
exhibitionism, he pushes the envelope so often it’s as though he’s daring us to
take offense. It’s mostly a front, though. Zack and Miri is Smith’s
most tenderly romantic venture since
1997’s Chasing Amy and not quite
the hardcore romp its title suggests.
The story unfolds simply, with few surprises. Zack (Seth
Rogen, on loan from Judd Apatow) is a paunchy, good-natured lay-about who
spends his days whipping up lattes at a Starbucks knockoff. Miri (Elizabeth
Banks, of W.) is his penniless roommate
whose sole ambition is to seduce the star quarterback at her high-school
reunion. Neither is particularly successful, a point driven home when their
power and utilities are shut off in the midst of a harsh Pittsburgh winter.
Inspired by a former classmate who has made his name in the
porn industry, Zack and Miri decide to make a movie of their own. They begin
with an eroticized reinvention of Star Wars, which remains one of Smith’s most exhaustively referenced obsessions.
(“Star Whores” features the likes of R2-Teabag, Hung Solo and Darth Vibrator.)
When their initial foray into the world of X-rated entertainment gets scrapped,
Zack resumes shooting in the coffee shop where he works, something Smith, who
shot Clerks in the convenience store where he was a cashier,
would know about.
Smith loads the movie with visual gags and cringe-worthy
physical comedy to match his gleefully vulgar dialogue, and his aim is often true. But what distinguishes Zack and Miri
from his more pedestrian outings is a cast that gives his adolescent
silliness a warm-hearted glow.
Craig Robinson, of TV’s The Office, is the heaviest hitter
in a supporting cast that
includes Jason Mewes (the talkative half of Jay and Silent Bob) and onetime
porn star Traci Lords. It is Rogen and Banks, though, who take a pair of sweet,
blue-collar kids and play them as endearing innocents even as they contemplate
careers in the smut business. Zack and Miri are utterly without cynicism, and
we root hard for them to succeed.
It comes as no surprise when Zack and Miri fall for one
another – they’re a natural match, only too blinded by familiarity to notice.
Smith keeps their courtship simple: Zack gets the girl, Zack loses the girl,
Zack comes to his senses and (rather hastily) wins the girl back. It’s a
classic love story dressed up as something a bit racier, and not only do we
know where it’s going, we know just how it plans to get there. That’s okay, in
the end, because Smith and his leads make Zack and Miri a couple worth knowing.