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Movie Review: Zack and Miri Make A Porno
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BAADASSSSS!   |  
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Zack and MiriZack and Miri Make a Porno
Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords
Rated R
Release date: October 31, 2008

Strip all of the porn-related material from Kevin Smith‘s latest vulgar and wordy gutbuster Zack and Miri Make a Porno and what you have is the sweetest comic romance I’ve seen in a long time and one of Smith’s most autobiographical films. I think when Smith attempted to “grow up” so to speak by making his first non-Askewniverse flick Jersey Girl he grew up too fast. In fact, he grew into the kind of director who came to Hollywood fresh out of film school with dreams of seeing his personal visions translated to the big screen and ended up making bland family comedies for Disney starring Rob Schneider. Jersey Girl was a fine film but Smith sacrificed a great deal of his signature voice in seeking out a box office friendly PG-13 rating. It took returning to his Red Bank stomping grounds for Clerks 2, the sequel Smith himself said would never happen, to get the comedic poet laureate his groove back.

Zack (Seth Rogen) lives in Monroeville, PA, with his longtime friend Miri (Elizabeth Banks) and works in a Starbucks knock-off coffee joint called Bean n’ Gone. The two have fallen on hard times with their water and power being cut off with no money coming in any time soon.

On the night before Thanksgiving they go to their 10-year high school reunion and are faced with the shocking reality that they haven’t done much in their lives. Miri attempts to fulfill a long cherished ambition of hooking up with HS football star Bobby Long (Brandon Routh), but the encounter is made all the more awkward when she discovers Bobby is gay and in a healthy relationship with porn star Brandon (Justin Long). Meanwhile, a video a couple of punks (Nicholas Lombardi, Chris Milan) took of Miri changing clothes (including a shot of her granny panties) with their camera phone, complete with Zack sticking his bare ass into the frame, becomes an Internet sensation. That’s when Zack gets an inspiration: they can make all their financial problems disappear by making their own porn flick and selling it online. Miri isn’t too excited by the idea at first but eventually warms to it, as does Zack, when he suggests that the two of them could have sex on film.

Zack talks his co-worker Delaney (Craig Robinson) into being the flick’s producer since he’s the only one with any kind of money. Deacon (Jeff Anderson), who plays along with Zack on the hockey team Monroeville Zombies, is recruited to be the cameraman. With the technical crew in place they assemble a cast that includes wannabe actor Barry (Ricky Mabe); cheery stripper Stacey (Katie Morgan); bachelor party performer Bubbles (Traci Lords), who gets her name from her special talent; and Lester (Jason Mewes), another porn newcomer with a unique ability. Despite some major setbacks that require retooling of their initial concept, a porn parody of Star Wars, into one that utilizes Bean n’ Gone as an off-hours shooting location, filming goes full steam and success is inevitable. But Zack and Miri find their long-lasting friendship put to the test when the time comes for their big scene.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is possibly the most adult film Kevin Smith has made since Chasing Amy, which was part of the Askewniverse but was much more realistic and downbeat. Smith’s latest could be his version of one of the multitude of popular romantic comedies women drag their teeth-gritting boyfriends to, where the male and female leads have been in a platonic relationship all their lives while both secretly nurturing crushes on the other. They stubbornly refuse to admit their feelings in the face of overwhelming odds until the sweet wrap-up where they kiss. Music up. Roll credits. Only in Smith’s world there’s a lot more vulgar language (the best kind), dick and fart jokes, and an insane amount of geeky in-jokes. Chick flick, meet the dick flick.

When he’s on fire Smith can be the best writer of comic dialogue there is. His characters can go on for minutes delivering the most delicious and deliriously scathing monologues that contain the simple linguistic power to tear down people, time-honored cliches, and cultural institutions. He tempered that rapier wit soaked in pizza cheese and Dr. Pepper when he targeted a wider audience for Jersey Girl, which was a mistake because Kevin Smith is gifted at creating memorable characters but they define themselves best through what they say. Smith’s screenplays could double as great stage plays any actor would chomp at the bit to be a part of.

Another indicator that Smith has matured greatly since Clerks 2 (which was a great flick and very adult) is that for the first time he has left his Jersey stomping grounds in search of new territory for his characters to haunt. Best of all he chose the town of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, home of George Romero’s zombie horror masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, and gained several connections to the beloved classic as a result. Zack and Deacon play for the hockey team Monroeville Zombies; Miri is seen drinking Iron City beer, a Pennsylvania favorite that Romero’s company Latent Image produced a commercial for back in the 1960’s; and there are cameos from Dawn‘s make-up effects guru Tom Savini (as the sleazebag who rents Zack and Miri their stage space) and actor David Early (the TV host at the beginning of Dawn) can been seen briefly auditioning for the porno. Being a big fan of Dawn of the Dead, I loved catching these many little nods to the movie. Plus, the depressed, wintry locations provide a great backdrop to our heroes’ dilemma.

When Zack, Miri, and their small cast and crew come together to make their porn flick they have that “Let’s put on a show” energy and attitude that powered the best independent cinema. In a way Smith is recalling the obstacles and sleepless nights that went into the making of his first feature, the original Clerks. From little details like taping a boom mike (ever present in the porn shots) to a hockey stick to using Zack’s place of employment as a filming location (remember the Quick Stop and RST Video) to the fact that Zack, sporting nerdy glasses (I myself sport them) and a bushy beard and able to talk passionately until he’s literally out of breath,  strangely resembles Smith himself Zack and Miri Make a Porno could be one of the director’s most personal films. Of course all his films thus far, including the unjustly kicked around Jersey Girl, have been loaded with autobiographical details from his life. Smith even gave his wife Jennifer a cameo as one of Zack and Miri’s cheerier classmates from their reunion.

Reaching even further outside of his previously staked out cinematic turf, Smith has embraced the exploding comedic talent out of Hollywood and managed to merge them with several key members of his repertory company to create one of his best casts since Dogma. Seth Rogen, always a welcome presence these days, does what he does best — playing a slightly immature slacker who finds his calling and the love of his life at the same time. It worked in Knocked Up, but Rogen is able to give the role more dimension than most actors can manage. Same goes for Elizabeth Banks as his budding love interest and straight woman, and it takes a Herculean effort to not be the most desirable woman in Iron City willing to bunk with a big chubby schlub. Banks gets one of her best roles here and it provides further proof that she should be a big star like Julia Roberts, only way more beautiful and substantially less annoying.

Craig Robinson of The Office and Pineapple Express gets to show off his gift for comic underplaying as Zack’s friend, co-worker, and reluctant (until the titty auditions) producer Delaney. Robinson can get a laugh with one of his slow-burning perplexed stares and put a comic spin on practically any line of dialogue. I love this guy. With any luck, Robinson’s next movie will give him the lead role he richly deserves. Smith regulars Jeff Anderson, who is best known as the caustic smartass Randal Graves from the Clerks movies, and Jason Mewes, best known as the Jay half of Jay and Silent Bob, get to play characters different from what they’ve played for Smith before and it gives them the opportunity to stretch as actors. Anderson has some good moments, one in particular got one of the biggest laughs in the movie. Mewes has a ball as the sweet, but clueless Lester.

Real-life porn stars Katie Morgan and Traci Lords get to show off their acting muscles a bit. Lords gained infamy early in life when she started out in porn and was discovered to have been underage. She made the transition into legitimate features, mostly B-movies, and carved out a little niche for herself as a go-to for sexy damsels and tough broads. Playing Bubbles as a aging adult performer gives Lords the chance to inject a bit of her own real-life experience into her character and she plays it beautifully. The same can be applied to Morgan, who’s only been in adult films for a few years but she’s adorable and has a wonderful personality flair for humor that could get her a lot more comic roles in the future. Brandon Routh is even better here playing Bobby Long, the object of Miri’s awkward crush, than he was as Superman in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Routh has great chemistry with Justin Long, pretty damn funny as always playing his porn-star lover Brandon. The way these two play off each other you could swear they’ve been in a solid, loving relationship for many years. Routh’s career has stalled since his turn as the Man of Steel was greeted with widespread indifference but on the basis of his performance as Bobby he should get better roles in the future.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a terrific comedy and shows remarkable growth in Smith’s filmmaking career. Here’s hoping the movie’s successful enough that he will continue forth on this path and never retires the dick and fart jokes.

Have fun. Until next time I remain….BAADASSSSS!

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