Zack and Miri Make a Porno
An odd combo of vulgar shock and comic romance skews this comedy into an awkward tryst.
reviewed by Mark Burns
Eww. Aww. Eh?
Zack (Seth Rogen: Pineapple Express) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks: W.) are platonic buddy losers sharing a walkup sty outside of Pittsburg. As their 10-year high school reunion approaches, the hovel has gone dark and dry, and the pair needs quick cash to climb out of debt and keep a roof over their heads. Worse, Miri has become an unwittingly infamous Internet celebrity. Cue kismet in the form of a gay porn actor. Enthralled by the pornster’s explicit conversation, Zack hatches a scheme to save his and Miri’s butts by producing and starring in a homemade porn video, together.
At first blush, this is what Be Kind, Rewind might have been if Michel Gondry were a perv. But there’s a strangely sentimental bent to the obscene here, as Zack and Miri discover (on camera) they are perhaps more to each other than just friends. It’s comic debauchery with a glint of tender romance.
And that’s exactly where this flick runs into trouble.
Zack and Miri wavers through strange territory. One moment it masks itself in explicit exposition and still more explicit adventures into the profane, including one horrendous gross-out gag. The next it retreats to more sensitive terrain, navigating a tender relationship between two friends spooked by the warm-and-fuzzies. It’s like the idiotic bluster of eighth grade boys combined with a coming-of-age romance, then displaced onto a couple of clueless 28-year-olds. The effect is strangeness.
That’s not to say the film’s without merit. Its audacious dialogue often does deliver solid punch lines. The extremes of sexual candor is bold yet amusing. And the characters’ varied attempts at homespun porn yield some crazy sight gags and shock laughter. At best, its vulgar comedy harkens to the 40 Year Old Virgin. And Rogen and Banks anchor the film well with the weirdly engaging dynamic of their relationship.
Ultimately, though, writer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks; Chasing Amy; Dogma) seems more intent on shock than story. The auteur needs a better filter to wrangle the naughtiness and keep it contextual amidst a stronger story. Instead, raunch overpowers as a forced gimmick that renders romantic storytelling weakly naïve.
Smith might have tried to take a page from John Waters and knit the film’s divergent selves together with charismatic eccentricity. Instead he slacks off when developing the supporting cast and offers no significant quirk to take the edge off.
In the end, an odd combo of vulgar shock and comic romance skews this comedy into an awkward tryst. Zack and Miri is the first filmic trip out of New Jersey for the generally successful Kevin Smith. Unfortunately, he does not travel well.
Fair comedy • R • 101 mins.