Zack and Miri Make a Porno
You can imagine what happens next … He delivers the cream?

Theatrical Release Date: 10/31/2008
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords, Ricky Mabe, Jeff Anderson

Everyone’s favorite comic book slacker turned indie film scene writer/director, Kevin Smith, returns to theaters this Halloween with “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”. Somewhat appropriately (and because I’m a hack) the film is both trick and treat (yeah, I know … hack).

The trick is that those puerile, lascivious folks looking for mainstreamed pron won’t find it here. Although wrapped in the shroud of ratings controversy (Smith and company appealed to the MPAA to get an R rating rather than the dreaded NC-17), “Zack and Miri” is a rather sweet, though still plenty raunchy, romantic comedy. The treat is that audiences (especially Kevin Smith fans) will have a very funny film to go along with all that candy you “earned” by mugging the neighbor kid as he returns home this Hallows Eve.

To fill the titular shoes, Smith ended up with the ubiquitous Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. Initially, Rosario Dawson was slated to play Miri but she dropped out to make “Eagle Eye” (whoops). Looking at the film as it ended up however, I think Banks’ quirky comic edge works better for the role – though both would have done fine with the romantic angle.

Zack is a surly barista at a Starbucks knock-off with little to no ambition in life. His best friend Miri works in the mall with apparently the same upward mobility and the two of them live together (platonically) in a run-down apartment, barely managing to keep the water and power on. Through some poor money management, the pair find themselves on the verge of homelessness … and through coincidence (and because it’s in the title of the film), they decide to make a pornographic film to solve their money woes.

Of course, it requires a few more willing participants to make a good porno flick (for variety I’m told) and after a quick casting call, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Jason Mewes and Barry Mabe join the fray. To help with financing such a delicate operation, Zack enlists his friend, and even surlier barista, Delaney (Craig Robinson), whose flat screen TV money will be enough to make all of their dreams come true.

This is undeniably a Kevin Smith production, as it is the ensemble’s collective efforts that make the film so much fun to watch. Rogen and Banks do a nice job, providing humor as expected but also doing a better than expected job at being the heart of the story. The supporting cast keep the laughs coming and there really isn’t an actor I would have replaced or left out.

Craig Robinson is the standout. Whether its his attitude towards his own marriage, snide under the breath remarks or his amazingly funny dancing, Robinson rarely fails to capitalize on screen-time. He’s like a laugh grenade with the pin pulled out and the audience is just waiting for the explosion.

The other actors that comprise the porno cast all bring a little something different to the mix and help keep it from being just a simple, run-of-the-mill sex film. Katie Morgan and Traci Lords are actual porn stars, so their inclusion comes of no suprise. Lords has done her best to break into mainstream film and leave her initial work behind her; Smith nicely played her character as the twisted but wise sage of the group. Morgan is hilarious as a ditzy stripper turned wannabe porn star and really solidified the legitimacy of what Smith was trying to capture in this film-within-a-film.

Barry Mabe and Jason Mewes are not real porn stars but their inclusion is welcome nonetheless. Mabe is the meekest of the bunch but his role reversal in the ensemble adds a nice, filthy touch that is necessary in a film like this. There is an element of his character being lost in the shuffle but with so many actors vying for screen-time and plot relevance, I can’t get too worked up over it.

Obviously, if it’s a Kevin Smith film, Jason Mewes is going to be involved. Seeing “Jay” without the long hair and baked sensibility was a little weird but Mewes pulls off his character very well, getting the chance to handle lines a lot more sensitive than “snoochie boochies”. He also had me laughing like a damn idiot at his hands-on explanation of the Dutch Rudder (you have to see the film to find out … or you know already and that’s kinda creepy).

There are also plenty of cameos in the film, some via Kevin Smith’s influence and other because Rogen lobbied for more people he knew to be in the film. This mix of comedy posses helped keep the film from feeling like so much of a Kevin Smith and his buddies production (though I love those) and it also leads to a sentence I never though could happen: Justin Long plays a character that isn’t a neurotic, geeky teenager.

Calm down, I know it’s a shock but we’re going to get through this. Actually, this is easily Long’s funniest role and I really hope there’s a lot more scenes of him and Superman Brandon Routh on the DVD.

Other regulars include Kevin Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, and Jeff Anderson. A new inclusion to the bunch that made me especially happy was that of Kenny Hotz. If you’ve seen the hilarious reality TV show “Kenny vs. Spenny”, you’ll be just as excited as I was. If you haven’t, the premise is that two best friends (think the odd couple but mentally unhinged) compete against each to claim victory and enact humiliation on each other. Events range from staying up the longest to eating the most meat to seeing who would make the best woman. It’s mean spirited but as long as you’re okay with that, get out and find the show.

But I digress.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is a funny, sweet film that will satiate all the Kevin Smith fanboys (of which I am one) and anyone else who likes dialogue driven films full of potty humor. While it was hovering on the edge between ratings for me, I’m going to give it the extra boost and dispense a 4 out of 5; mostly because Smith did his best job yet of keeping the momentum of the film going.

Often, there’s a big slowdown scene near the end of his films before the main characters have an epiphany and make up with whomever they’re mad at … this time around, while there definitely is that moment, rather than playing out over an entire scene, it really is kept to a few moments.

While I’m not sure if this helps or hurts the cause, the elements of the film that almost garnered it an NC-17 are fairly tame by today’s standards; a little male nudity, a little female nudity, a few simulated sex scenes, lots of foul language and Seth Rogen’s bare ass. That won’t even get you arrested in four or five states … or so I’m told.

If you’re a Kevin Smith fan, you shouldn’t be reading this because you’re inside the theater right now and it’s rude to use your internet-enabled smart phone during the film. Everyone else probably has a good sense of whether their sensibilities can handle a film about making a low budget porno and will either rush right out or move on with their lives.