Zack and Miri made their porno, now what?
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    Zack and Miri’s Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks find themselves in a few awkward situations.

    Grade: C

    Bottom line:
    If you’re into poop jokes and porn, you might like Zack and Miri Make a Porno. If not, this Kevin Smith directed comedy probably isn’t for you.

    Seth Rogen plays Zack, the deadbeat male counterpart to Banks’ Miri. The two live together as friends and split the burden of not paying bills. Their profane, punchy humor is all that seems to save them from becoming the depressed byproducts of their circumstances. With a heap of bills so high and backlogged that the water and heat get shut off, Zack and Miri (short for Miriam) are more than just a little down-and-out in their hometown of Monroeville, Penn. (a depressed suburb of Pittsburgh). Their bad luck hits a new low when their utilities are cut while Miri (played by Elizabeth Banks) is in the shower, making herself pretty to seduce her high school crush, Bobby, at a ten year reunion — the reunion where we begin to hear foreshadowing whispers of the porn to come.

    When the platonic (but for how long?) couple finally arrives at the high school reunion (decorated like a low-budget prom), the evening proves as awkward and disappointing as they both expected. This, of course, provides ample opportunity for a few good jokes and lewd sexual advances towards former classmates. So Miri grabs a beer and saunters over in a Disney-chic dress to make her move on Bobby, every bit as good-looking and successful as a Los Angeles √©migr√© from Monroeville should be. The overgrown high school jokes showcase some of Smith’s better — but by no means best — writing. Meanwhile, Zack chats up Bobby’s boyfriend, the slimy but lovable gay porn star played by Justin Long, who gives a refreshingly self-aware, pastiche performance. After a few too many drinks, Bobby’s boyfriend reveals to Zack that they’re both gay porn stars. And voila, the idea that propels the rest of the film is born: To pay the back bills, Zack and an initially disappointed, then hesitant Miri (eventually) decide to film a porn.

    What ensues is graphic Kevin Smith humor that won’t entirely disappoint familiar or dedicated fans (though I still kind of wish Jay or Alanis Morisette made a cameo). Seth Rogen aficionados will likely enjoy Rogen’s great, but decidedly already-done performance, and Elizabeth Banks is beautiful but run-of-the-mill in her role.

    In what follows, Zack and Miri assemble a cohort of washed up porn-dregs that includes former-underage-porn-sensation-turned-method-actress (in real life!) Traci Lords and a dedicated idiot played by Jason Mewes. The supporting characters are hilariously sketched but don’t get enough time to really move beyond being rough-drafts. Early on the group delivers a very promising homemade costume montage for STAR WHORES, whose porno production gets abruptly cut off by the effects of a local economic downturn (their secret garage/porn studio gets torn down overnight).

    Zack and Miri initially received an NC-17 rating since it contains scenes of porn-in-progress. To this effect, Smith has made a number of pointed comments about the double standard for blood given how easily the MPAA dishes out R ratings to movies where blood and body parts fly through every scene. Since we’re so good at talking incessantly about violence, in movies, in the news, in print, etc… why shouldn’t we deal with sex the same way? In this respect, Smith’s fight with the MPAA (he appealed an NC-17 rating and successfully had it changed to an R) is valiant. Yet his argument is ultimately better as a political gesture than a feature film.

    The posters and premise had such promise, but the odd tonal combination of poop jokes and porn will probably alienate anyone who isn’t the definition of the film’s target demographic. This is not to say that a film should pander to everyone, but if you’re making such a stink over the politics of media violence you could at least have a bit more equal-opportunity porn and choose a sexy male protagonist or Rogen’s female equivalent.

    The ensemble of porn actors is rich with potential. But material that Smith spins out of the situations is far from comic gold. It something closer to comic porn: excessive, repetitive, and even, at times, a bit too vulgar (do we really need the scene with the shit? Of course my questioning it is probably the point…). The scenes where the characters actual film the porno are only vaguely amusing, with the rare moment of brilliance. The jokes are shocking at times, but predictable in their crudity after the first few.

    Zack and Miri succeed at what they set out to do: make a (bad) porn. But the same could hardly be said of Kevin Smith, whose well-funded production comes off as something that borders precariously on being just the mediocre installment in a hundred-minute sitcom with full frontal nudity and a few good thrusting scenes.

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