Well, Silent Bob’s back once again, bending the limits of free speech to their breaking point, with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, a mostly successful carnal-carnival of a flick which is 100% guaranteed to draw gales of merry laughter from juveniles of all ages. Whereas Mel Brooks once proudly stated “I do bad taste with intelligence”, Smith delivers his foul funniness with a wink, a nudge and plenty of smiles.
And who better to characterize the prototypical Smith-ian protagonist than Seth Rogen, the Fozzy Bear-ish star of Judd Apatow’s audacious sex comedies Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin? Playing Zack, a chubby, shlubby coffee shop employee with little ambition outside of masturbatory exploration, he’s paired with Elizabeth Banks (Last seen portraying Laura Bush in W.) as Miri, his equally hopeless, yet light-years more attractive, best friend and room-mate. Desperately low on cash, and attending a High School reunion where they’ve become forgotten foot-notes, the duo are inspired by a gay adult film star (Justin Long – in a side-splitting comic turn) to get into the skin picture business.
Bankrolled by Zack’s co-worker, the unhappily married Delaney (Craig Robinson – the film’s drollest secret weapon), the duo quickly form a close-knit family of eager porn-pals. There’s Lester (Jason Mewes), a lisping goofball with one particularly valuable attribute, Bubbles (The legendary Traci Lords), star attraction of bachelor parties across the land, and Stacey (Real-life porn star Katie Morgan), a lovably vivacious - and impossibly pneumatic - stripper. Drafting an amateur camera-jockey (Clerks’ Jeff Anderson), the group set out to craft the ultimate do-it-yourself fornication flick. Complications ensue, however, as Zack and Miri prepare for their own scene, and begin to realize that their simple friendship may not be so simple after all...
Watching Zack and Miri, it’s hard to believe that Smith didn’t come up with this idea sooner. I mean c’mon, the man’s entire filmography has been fanatically fixated on exploring concepts usually best suited to the imagination of a fifteen-year-old thumbing through a well-worn copy of Hustler. It’s a great concept for a risqué adult comedy, and Smith recognizes the premises’ boundless potential and wrings plenty of laughs from it. Uproarious fake-porn antics rule the day (including one money shot you won’t see, um, coming.), but Smith’s talent for pop-culture riddled dialogue is also well served here, where obscure references to properties including Star Wars, Highlander and The Wiz are flawlessly peppered amongst the innumerable naughty words.
It’s pretty obvious that Smith has lovingly staged Zack and Miri as a tribute to his beloved younger years, pulling all-nighters shooting Clerks with his buddies, and Rogen is a superlative Smith stand-in. Crudely endearing, and so quick-witted that you almost need a slow-mo dial to keep up with him, this stoner Canuck delivers his passages of stamina-testing profanity with precision-like aplomb.
Equal, if not better, is Banks, who projects so much warmth into Miri that it’s hard not to join Zack in falling in love with her. There’s one moment after their big scene, where the actress expresses a whole host of feelings through body language, glowing smiles and girlish elation, pushing the film’s emotional envelope into the stratosphere. Mark my words; this woman is destined for Hollywood Jedi status.
While Smith handles his actors with skill, coaxing emotionally and amusingly satisfying performances from nearly the entire cast (Traci Lords proves to be the lone dead spot), he does make some undeniably limp editorial decisions. Zack and Miri’s momentum flags in spots, such as during an awkward opening sequence featuring Gerry Bednob, which shamelessly apes that actor’s eminent 40-Year-Old Virgin appearance, and more specifically throughout a meandering final act which veers perilously close to Maudlin-town. As well, James L. Venable’s dreadful Shaft meets Looney Tunes score should have never made it past the Cassio keyboard demo stage.
However, clumsy choices aside, Kevin Smith once again proves himself cinema’s definitive pervert provocateur; an idiosyncratic talent still capable of crafting smart and witty crowd-pleasers. Zack and Miri doesn’t reach the comedic zenith occupied by Dogma, Chasing Amy or the Clerks films, but still proves to be a potent source of charmingly dirty-minded hilarity certain to delight die-hards and newbies alike. Trust me when I say that this is one Porno worth paying for.
3.5 out of 5
*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Nov. 10th, 2008.