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Zack and Miri Make a Porno (18)

Stuart Ian Burns finds the same old story of the platonic relationship struggle, but this time with porn

Published on November 18th 2008.


Zack and Miri Make a Porno (18)

AS the credit crunch hits and the shadowed veil of recession whisps across the world, all of us are looking to save or make a few extra pennies so that we can keep a roof over our heads, our stomachs full and our brain distracted.

Postal DVD rental firms are seeing an upturn in business, as are pizza deliver companies, and as we stay at home watching Casino Royale, nibbling on a calzone, we’re selling stuff we don’t need on e-Bay to people who don’t need it either. We’re desperate for ideas as to how we’ll survive and writer/director Kevin Smith has a suggestion: Pornography. Or, in Smith’s case, making a funny if not quite satisfying film about people making pornography.

Zack and Miri, old school friends and now flatmates, find that the meagre pay cheques they’re receiving at their McJobs aren’t enough to cover their housing expenses and, as their utilities are slowly being cut off around them, decide the best way to make cash quickly is to film a not at all tasteful adult film and more specifically of them ‘doing it’. In other words, though the plot is in the title, Zack and Miri Make A Porno asks much the same question as the classic late 80s rom-com When Harry Met Sally, and a dozen films since: Can men and women really be friends or does the sex part always get in the way?

As an old fan of the director, I’ve watched the highs and lows of Kevin Smith’s career as his filthy schtick has drifted in and out of fashion since he defined the form with his ultra-low budget debut, Clerks in the mid-90s. Not all of his work has hit the mark – Will Ferrell’s cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is almost unwatchable – but I’ve loved his dialogue, his slightly stylised and thoroughly quotable approach to language, which makes swearing and cussing an art form and puts up on screen words which most people won’t admit to using in more rarefied company. That’s still on display here, and the finest moments are when a character is riffing on masturbation techniques or what’s acceptable in adult cinema.

The film’s other asset is central couple Seth Rogen (a veteran of the Judd Apatow school) and Elizabeth Banks (seen last week in W as Laura Bush), who offer a comfortable on-screen presence.

Like Billy and Meg or Simon and Jessica before them, you’re just happy to spend time with Seth and Elizabeth as they initially drift through their daily routine and hilarious casting process for the film within a film. Smith is a notorious stickler for his script, but this couple seems entirely natural and despite appearance there’s nary a whiff of the wish-fulfilment that Rogen’s earlier film Knocked Up was criticised for despite the similar dynamic of beauty and the bear.

But why, even though Zack and Miri is very funny in places and I laughed a lot, was I so disappointed?

Well, though we’re back in a land of Mallrats and coffee shops the film is set outside his usual universe of Jay and Silent Bob and has a nominally more realisti tone, yet Smith still drags in a dated Star Wars parody which misfires terribly, so to speak. Members of his repertory, such as Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes, appear again, but they’re essentially playing less amusingly outlandish versions of earlier characters, Randall and Jay, as if Smith is deliberately holding them back in a bid to appeal to audience members who are either unfamiliar with his earlier work, or turned off by it potentially leaving his fanbase unsatisfied.

The director is also unsure exactly how far to push the pornographic elements, whith is odd considering the treatment the donkey received in his last film. He’s clearly enjoying the chance to shoot some proper exploitation material for a change and earn an 18 certificate for something other than words alone, and must have had a ball with the research during pre-production. But pornography is notoriously difficult to parody and there’s nothing all that amusing about watching a naked Mewes having coffee beans dribbled over him whilst he’s bobbing up and down behind an equally nude Katie Morgan. Real life porn star Traci Lords appears to add some cache but with the exception of her bubbly opening salvo she’s given little to do.

Even so, the cast obviously enjoyed themselves during the making of the film and the party atmosphere is infectious, Craig Robinson from the US remake of The Office is a laconic addition as Rogen’s co-worker and producer, and there is a brilliant though largely superfluous scene early on in which Zack and Miri attend their high school reunion and make surprising discoveries about their old classmates. This hints at a film which simply shows the pair platonically dealing with life’s mishaps which could have led to a conclusion as touching as Chasing Amy or spun-off into a series of ‘Zack and Miri’ films. Instead the story resolves itself as rather functional romance, which is tonally inconsistent, considering the rest of the material and doesn’t seem like Smith at all. Snoogans.

7/10

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is on general release.

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