Zack and Miri Make a Porno - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

David Swindle
Grade: A

It's really hard to parlay success in pornography into something else.

For the past twenty years porn star Ron Jeremy has tried to go from the A-list of porn actors to the D-list of Hollywood actors. It really hasn't worked out very well.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith didn't start his career shooting skin flicks but early on he stumbled into a similarly problematic, almost black-hole of a genre: the gross-out/fanboy film. Yet he's always seemed to want to do more than just make disposable entertainment.

For years Smith has been stuck with two competing constituencies which manifest themselves in two aspects of his filmography. Smith's previous films - "Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," "Jersey Girl," and "Clerks II" - show him walking a difficult balancing act between providing pop culture references, bathroom humor, and sex jokes versus thoughtful commentary on such issues as relationships, sexuality, male friendship, and religion.

Smith's army of stoner/geek fans tend to most appreciate the dumb jokes and "Star Wars" parodies. Their favorite Smith films tend to be "Mallrats" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Smith's more highbrow fans - of which I count myself - celebrate "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma."

So in which direction would Smith go with his newest offering, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"? The answer is that it pursues a middle ground, balancing both sides of Smith's cinematic tendencies in a more sophisticated, successful fashion than in "Clerks" and "Clerks II."

The film presents us with characters at a position in life similar to most Smith heroes: the bottom of the economic ladder. Lifelong platonic friends Zack (Seth Rogan) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) share an apartment and both work at Bean-N-Gone Coffee Shop, a Starbucksesque establishment. They continually struggle to come up with the money for bills and rent and run two months behind on their utilities.

When the water and electricity finally gets shut off the pair, inspired by their encounter with a gay porn star (a scene-stealing Justin Long) at their high school anniversary, decide to make a low-budget sex film to market to their former classmates.

The friends and budding auteurs assemble a wild cast and crew. As producer, is fellow Bean-N-Gone worker Delaney (Craig Robinson, most recently seen with Rogan in "Pineapple Express.") Behind the camera is Deacon (Smith-regular Jeff Anderson, best known as Randal from "Clerks.") The on-screen talent includes unlikely porn star Lester (Jason Mewes, beloved as the character Jay from Smith's previous films.) Real-life former porn star Traci Lords plays Bubbles, who has a shockingly appropriate name.

Then, as the crew begins preparing and filming, Murphy's Law comes into play as numerous obstacles and plot twists challenge the team's objective. The biggest one of all, though, will be the consequences of Zack and Miri's sex scene. Finally the dam is burst as their feelings for one another start to emerge at the most inopportune time: when they're preparing to have sex with other people.

It's an absolutely triumphant film for all involved. As a comedy it's pure dynamite with laughs that keep coming, mostly from Smith's unbeatable dialogue. Smith reaffirms himself as the Shakespeare of Profanity for the elegance and cleverness of his obscenity. The laughs are as frequent and intense as "Superbad" or any of the recent Hard-R comedies.

In addition to the bathroom and sex jokes - two generally separate realms of comedy that are combined in one of the film's most memorable and certainly disgusting laughs - the film also features particularly strong character-based humor. In particular, Robinson, who first drew attention in Rogan's "Pineapple Express," really cements his reputation as a gifted comedic talent who needs to be put in more films. Long also makes quite an impression as his flamboyantly out-of-the-closet gay porn star.

Thematically the film explores familiar Smith territory - the intersection of sex and relationships - but makes some new, thoughtful contributions. Smith's not just repeating his "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" insights. He articulates a realistic, compelling view of the nature and problem of sex.

In the end, though, the greatest victor is Smith, himself. With "Zack and Miri" he's finally successfully broken out of the "Viewaskewniverse." Smith's first six films all take place in the same fictional universe of his hometown of Red Bank, New Jersey. Iconic dope dealers Jay and Silent Bob make regular appearances, characters in one film refer to events and characters of other films, and numerous inside jokes - 37! - abound.

After "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," Smith sought to reach out to a wider audience and just do something more mainstream with "Jersey Girl," his first PG-13 and non-Viewaskewniverse film. For many reasons, the central one not his own (Bennifer backlash,) the film failed critically and commercially. So Smith retreated back to familiar territory with "Clerks II."

In "Zack and Miri" Smith makes a film apart from his mythology. At the same time, though, he delivers a product with the laughs and juvenilia of "Mallrats" and the depth, drama, and intelligence of "Chasing Amy." All of his fans, as well as those unfamiliar with his work, should leave satisfied.

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