Zack and Miri Make a Porno (R)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
If you're Kevin Smith, you've got to be looking at Judd Apatow's movie empire and thinking, "Dude, what the fk?"
It must seem kind of unfair. After all, writer-director Smith paved the way 14 years ago in Clerks for the kind of movie that has made Apatow a brand name. Combining nerd-stalgia and a case of arrested adolescence, Smith has cranked out comedies in which the art of cinema has remained subservient to explosive shots of laughter and pushing the envelope of acceptable content (see: bestiality on parade in Clerks II). Given his aesthetic sensibility, it's mind-boggling that it took Smith this long to set a story his new Zack and Miri Make a Porno in the world of adult movies. The guy practically invented "comedy porn."
The strange, almost innocent thing about Zack and Miri Make a Porno is that it seems to be an idea as old as Clerks. Our protagonists, Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks), are lifelong platonic pals sharing a Pittsburgh apartment they can barely afford. The threat of imminent eviction coincides with them becoming accidental viral-video stars, leading Zack to a brainstorm: Why not solve their financial woes by starring in their own "adult film"? And why not make it a fully costumed sex parody of Star Wars?
Zack and Miri's business model is based on the idea that they can somehow convince their old high-school classmates and those viral-video watchers to cough up cash to watch Miri having sex in a Princess Leia hairdo. It's no wonder these people are broke: Their quaint view of the world of smut isn't the stuff of which fortunes are made.
Smith, however, is just looking for a thin, naughty excuse on which to hang a tale of friends who figure out they love each other sort of a When Harry Fked Sally on Camera for Money. In so doing, he wanders into the territory he finds most difficult: capturing actual emotion. While Banks makes for a charmingly neurotic Miri, Rogen simply recycles his potty-mouthed slacker from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, and his ability to convince as an object of affection is waning.
Smith, too, coasts on familiar shtick though a lot of it still works. He may be eager to find the line between crude and flat-out disgusting, but he also spins vulgarity into some great, unprintable punch lines and occasionally, a printable one, like Zack's description of the factors that keep others from venturing into skin-ema: "Options and dignity."
Smith is still funny when the muse strikes him, but watching his attempt to build romantic comedy out of sentimentalizing old-school pornography is just too awkward. So profound is his throwback mentality that when we watch Miri basking in the afterglow of her first tryst with Zack, the song Smith throws on the soundtrack is Blondie's 1979 hit "Dreaming." While Apatow has managed to turn his crude sense of humor into something human and of the moment, Smith remains a guy with a camera and the barest sense of how to use it, still snickering at the same things he did when "Dreaming" was on the radio.