Movie Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno
By Matthew Huntley
November 4, 2008

They're all in very different places right now.

Kevin Smith is obsessed with sex, masturbation, genitals and cussing. To Smith, these subjects never grow old and continually offer ways of seeing just how far he can push the envelope while still securing an R rating from his friends at the MPAA.

I like Kevin Smith movies, even his much-maligned Jersey Girl, which fans seemed to write off not because it was a bad movie but because it strayed too far outside Smith's usual antics of, well, sex, masturbation, genitals and cussing. Jersey Girl was also rated PG-13, and for many Smith fans, that's blasphemy. I welcomed it as a nice change of pace for the writer-director, who, yes, can make movies outside the genre of crude sexual humor.

But with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith stays well within his usual comedic realm, which fans should easily eat up and non-fans could learn to like because of its outrageous situations and likable characters. It's about two best friends so strapped for cash they resort to pornographic filmmaking just to keep a roof over their heads. It sounds incredible, but in this day and age, when someone can record something one minute and post it on the Internet the next, it's well within reason.

Zack and Miri, played by the suddenly prolific Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, respectively, have been best friends since the first grade. Pushing 30 and living in Pittsburgh, they share a dumpy apartment, work in the same town where they grew up, and are unable to convince themselves they've done anything meaningful since they graduated high school.

At their 10-year high school reunion, Miri attempts to bed the school hunk, Bobby Long (Brandon Routh of Superman Returns), but Zack lets her in on the fact Bobby is there with his own boyfriend (Justin Long, quite funny), a gay porn star from L.A. Miri is crushed, as are her plans to use Bobby for money to pay off her and Zack's escalating debts.

That night, which happens to be the night before Thanksgiving, Zack and Miri's water and electricity get turned off and they keep warm by burning their bills in a trash can. Zack's idea: make a porno and sell it to everyone in their graduating class, and then some.

Together, Zack and Miri begin recruiting the cast and crew. For anyone familiar with Kevin Smith, this is an ode to his motto that anyone can make a film. Zack asks his coffee shop co-worker, Delaney (Craig Robinson), to be the film's producer since he can finance the project with the money he would have used to buy a new plasma TV. He asks another local, Deacon (Jeff Anderson), to be the director of photography because he used to tape varsity football games in attempt to sleep with "any cheerleader."

During the cast auditions, Zack, Miri and Delaney round up a motley crew of wannabe porn actors, including Lester (Smith-movie regular, Jason Mewes), Barry (Ricky Mabe), Bubbles (Traci Lords), who earns her name for a very specific reason, and Stacey (Katie Morgan), a local stripper. And voila! They have everything they need to make a movie, including a makeshift sound stage at the coffee shop called the Bean-N-Gone and their own catchy title (which can't be printed here, but it's mixed with the word "cappuccino").

The only dilemma is that Zack and Miri, who will also be acting in the movie, think it's too strange for them to have sex with each other, or anyone else in front of them for that matter. After all, they're lifelong friends, and they don't want "meaningless" sex to change that. Zack tells Miri to simply think of it as acting, nothing more, and vows things won't get weird. Of course, that's hardly ever the case when sex enters the picture, and this being a movie and all, the rules of romantic comedies are bound to kick in. Whaddya know: Zack and Miri discover they have feelings for each other that go deeper than friendship.

But enough about the plot. It just wouldn't be a Kevin Smith comedy without an inordinate amount of nudity and endless c*ck and t*tty jokes, as well as scatological humor. There's one shot in particular that will have audiences either laughing out loud or have them turning away in disgust. My theater had both, and I found the shot and people's reactions hilarious. Whatever the case, it will have people talking.

Even with such vile and gross-out humor, Kevin Smith's movies are kept inline by their underlying sweetness. It would be wrong to think that just because a movie is about pornography (heck even if a movie is an actual porno) it couldn't also have a heart. And this one does.

It also has a certain level of rawness, including the down-to-earth characters and actual locations around Pittsburgh. The shots of iced cars driving on snow-filled streets, the disorderly holiday decorations outside the mall, the dirt and slush on the coffee shop floor. For someone who grew up in a cold area on the east coast, such footage reminded me of home and made me realize Smith is a storyteller who really knows his characters and their situations. He's a filmmaker who believes his characters could be real who live in the real world.

There were a couple things I could have used less of, including Rogen's chronic dialogue. Rogen is the type of actor with a large presence on-screen, perhaps too large, thanks mostly to his physicality. He's a big guy, with a big head of hair and a big beard. He's the kind of guy who's easy to spot in a crowd. But sometimes he just doesn't shut up. Even in this year's Pineapple Express, he became irritating after a while, with his loud, projecting voice. Maybe it's because he seems to play the same character over and over again. Take his character from any one of his movies - The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad - and they're more or less interchangeable. I'm sure Rogen is having a blast and living his dream, but audiences may grow tired of it. I know I'm starting to.

This is the opposite for Banks, who, after W., shows she can handle multiple roles convincingly. There's a reaction shot in Zack and Miri that's so well-acted, Banks convinces us her time as a sole supporting player will soon be coming to an end. She's meant for starring roles.

It's typical for Smith's dialogue to sound like dialogue we could easily hear in real-life, but in Zack and Miri, the only thing the characters ever talk about is sex. Be it the young characters or old characters - we only ever hear them speak about a*s, testicles, breasts, nudity, underwear, masturbation, etc. A little range would be nice. I know, the title of this movie has "Porno" in it, but that's not to say they couldn't talk about something else.

Still, I laughed a lot during Zack and Miri and I viewed the characters as people I could really know. The romantic elements were also sweet and endearing, even if they were predictable. This is a good movie, but I wouldn't say it breaks new ground, if in fact that's what Smith was trying to do. His Clerks II was more bold, and I think this is a sign that, sooner or later, the amount of sexual and scatological humor on-screen is going to eventually mature. There will come a day when it will be impossible to push the envelope any further than it's already been pushed and still keep the movie in theaters. When that happens, I'm curious to know what Kevin Smith will do. Using Jersey Girl as a reference, I'm confident he'll find something.