Zack & Miri Make a Porno

Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of five)

Do you really need me to review a Kevin Smith comedy for you? Either you’ve seen the potty-mouthed, slacker nerdfests that are Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and the Jay & Silent Bob one, and know damned well whether you want to see more from this guy, or you’ve never heard of these films at all. In which case, you, sir, are my grandmother, and no, you would not like Zack & Miri Make a Porno.

But just for fun, let’s consider this film and how it makes sex utterly unattractive, reaches a little higher in its comic monologues, delivers what the bulk of Kevin Smith’s fanbase wants, and creates a perfect demonstration of why romantic comedies can be the laziest form of screenwriting on Earth. Which may come as a surprise to the guys who write the zombie pics.

The story: Chubby, bearded loser Seth Rogan is happily platonic roommates with beautiful, though dorky, Elizabeth Banks. Their loserdom has achieved such heights that they are so far in debt all utilities have been turned off. In desperation, Rogan suggests they make and market a porn film, in which they have sex, thus taking their relationship to a strange new place. Like all Smith films, a wacky and crude cast is assembled, nerdtacular debates and riffs on Star Wars occur, things that many men think but few men say are said, and of course the sex totally screws up the relationship.

The film never feels more real than the set decoration on a high school play, and just as Rogan is an obvious standin for Smith (who’s not quite as good an actor), the story is an obviously dashed-off excuse for Smith’s obsessions with geekery and sex. Whereas past films showed an obsession with gay fellatio, this film’s tick is anal sex. Grandma, you can stop reading now.

Given that, storywise, the film isn’t trying to be anything more than a string of amusing cause and vaguely related effect, it might be unfair to pick on the incredibly sloppy third-act tension. But let’s. It goes something like this: Character A says, roughly, “I’m so mad at you for eating my sandwich.” Character B says, “You said I could.” A: “I said if you wanted to. I can’t believe you wanted to.” B: “I cannot believe you’re pulling this crap on me.” A: “Well, I am.” While B loves A with all the love in a movie character’s heart, B does not say the next logical thing: “Well, I didn’t actually eat the sandwich. It’s in the fridge.” What B does instead is stalk off, comically manage to strip every single thing out of B’s bedroom and be gone forever in a few hours. Months later, someone prompts B to admit that A is totally The One and go back, and then we get the reveal.

To review, because my spoiler-denuded example is crap: Two people have a conflict. But instead of finishing the conversation and working out the conflict, one character storms off dramatically and never looks back. Which, in real life, is totally ass. Further, because the filmmakers in all these movies are too goddamned lazy to manufacture a real problem that a couple might really have to work out, it turns out in the end that there was no problem at all! And all it would’ve taken was one person telling that to the other, but then? No climactic tension! So instead everyone acts like an unreal jackass to make this feel sort of like a movie. It’s tedious. Oh, and everything to do with sex in this movie makes sex seem like the least sexy thing on earth. So I guess at least it nails (heh) the esprit de porn.All that said, the movie is full of Smith’s trademark humor. If you like his movies more as dramatizations of what would make a pretty good standup comedy act, and if you’re wondering what Traci Lords looks like just north of 40, then give this man your ten bucks, or your $3.50 DVD rental in four months.

For me, there’s always something worthwhile in a Kevin Smith movie, and I’m giving this thing an extra half star or so for that (bigger fans, adjust upward). But the lazy plotting and the fact that Seth Rogan never entertains me much brought the film down a lot. Dogma is my favorite Smith film, followed by the fresh and minimal Clerks. Dogma was Smith’s most ambitious piece of writing, and I wish he’d take his comedy and his storytelling forward. If the thing with J-Lo and Ben-Aff was so scarring that he needed this creative retreat, fair enough. But I hope next time he swings for the fences.