Movie News & Reviews

Concept, cast carry nudefest 'Zach and Miri' long way

Kevin Smith's Clerks was one of the first R-rated movies I eversaw, so it's always held a special place in my heart.

It's also strong anecdotal evidence -- the best kind of evidence -- thatthe media's impact on kids is overstated. Clerks is stuffedwith obscenity, and though I must have seen it by age 13, I didn'tlearn just how cool swearing is until well into college. Now everythird damn word I say can't be spoken on prime-time TV (these reviewsrun, before the F-bombs are excised, around 8,000 words), but that hasa lot more to do with the ongoing disappointment of existence, much ofwhich has to do with being a Seattle sports fan, than from watchingtoo many dirty movies.

Anyway, it's been a bumpy road since Clerks andMallrats, Smith's first and best (who wants to start aninternet fight??). But after Clerks 2 and the new Zack andMiri Make a Porno, he's on a two-film hitting streak -- assumingyou're down with intermittently hilarious movies that lack a keyelement that could have made them great.

Long-time friends/roommates Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are in deepfinancial straights. They can't make the rent or even keep theirutilities running. At their 10-year high school reunion, a meetingwith gay porn actor Justin Long sets Rogen's wheels turning: if he andBanks made a porno, their money problems would be over.

After convincing Banks it wouldn't mess with their friendship to sleeptogether for money, the pair recruit friends, strippers and assortedsleazebags as producers and co-stars. For once in his life, Rogen'slooking competent and ambitious. But it's not long before jealousyshows up, threatening both the production and Banks and Rogen'sdecades-long relationship.

Zack and Miri has many of writer/director Kevin Smith'shallmarks: schlubby working-class characters, a preoccupation withcontact sports and pop culture, and dialogue so dirty that marryingMr. Clean wouldn't make the dirt come off.

What's new is that, instead of sounding like perverts who dropped outof the Ivy League for excessive perversion, his characters soundmostly natural.

That opens up a funny cast (including a few Smith regulars and morerecent talent like Rogen and Craig Robinson) to be extra funny. Justhow funny is going to depend heavily on how hilarious you find made-upsex acts and arguments about which Star Wars characters wouldscrew each other (a personal jeer and cheer, respectively), meaningsome moments will fall flat with a vengeance, but its overall hit rateis pretty high.

Things are weaker in the emotional department. You can't say Smithdoesn't explore some less-traveled roads with his examination ofrelationships, from the age-old question in Clerks of how manyblowjobs is too many for a girl to have given before you datedher to the bisexual love triangle of Chasing Amy.

Now we're up in some business of whether it's possible to make pornwith a friend without things getting weird. That's actually Step 3 inmy 7-Step Me-Friendship Application, so my perspective may be skewed(interestingly, no one's completed that app yet), but Zack andMiri doesn't get too deep into the particulars of its situation.Too bad -- sometimes the best way to reach universal truths is throughodd paths. For a movie with a premise I'd never seen before, thecourse of Rogen and Banks' relationship felt too familiar.

Even if it were a romantic comedy, which it's not, exactly -- if otherrom-coms had this much nudity, I'd have to start dating someone justfor the express purpose of getting dragged along to them -- Zack andMiri is funny enough to stand on its comedic merits alone.

If Smith had been able to nail down that romantic side, he would havebeen on to something special.

Grade: B