Stoner superstar Seth Rogen and potty mouth king Kevin Smith together, with a cast plucked from Apatow, Smith and Office alumni, “Mac guy” Justin Long, ubiqui-cutey Elizabeth Banks, and a plot about two slacker roomies forced to make a porno to pay the rent? Sounds like it should be awesome. And it is for the first two acts, then it sort of peters out- pun intended- but still satisfies. It’s popular to bash Smith, and this isn’t his best movie, but it’s pretty fucking funny for a good while.
I have a love/hate relationship with Kevin Smith’s movies. I loved Clerks, with its unashamed profanity and familiar Jersey slacker culture, but since then Jay & Silent Bob got shoehorned in everything; the movies were good but juvenile, and while I like them I didn’t think he really grew much until Clerks 2 came along. Zack and Miri Make a Porno does feel like Smith meets Apatow, but that’s mostly due to Rogen’s involvement; Banks may not be the best-written female character, but she’s miles ahead of Smith’s usual. So give Z&M a try.
Rogen plays his usual stoner everynerd, a barista at Bean ‘n Gone; he’s Zack, and Miri is Elizabeth Banks (W., The Baxter, The 40-Year Old Virgin) his slacker roommate who’s been buds with him since the first grade. We meet them as they brave the bitter Pittsburgh cold, going to work at their minimum-wage jobs to pay a mountainous stack of bills. Soon the power is turned off, the water too, because Zack would rather buy skates and fleshlights than pay the rent. Actually it’s to Rogen’s credit that he lays on enough charm for us not to wonder why Miri doesn’t just boot his ass out, but I didn’t even think about that until days later.
Zack’s coffee shop pals include the crabby Delaney (Craig Robinson, “The Office” janitor and Apatow alumn) who’s constantly whispering Zen-like epiphanies about the misery of marriage, and the furious boss Mr. Surya (Gerry Bednob, The 40-Year Old Virgin) who is apopleptic over their total lack of work ethic. Delaney steals every scene he’s in, and with Rogen and Banks there that’s fine work. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in bigger roles, as he’s definitely got the chops to do it on his own. The other scene-stealer is Justin Long, who was tedious in Live Free or Die Hard and wore out his welcome as the Mac Guy, who plays a flaming gay porn star who shows up at Zack & Miri’s high school reunion. He chews just enough scenery and delivers Smith’s dialogue- which is a little less raunchy and more clever this time around- perfectly. When the duo decides to make porn, some Smith regulars file in but are different enough that they don’t make you roll your eyes.
Jason Mewes is back, this time as a crew-cutted porn star wanna-be, and he’s crafted a character far enough from “Jay” to be funny without feeling old; Jeff Anderson (Randall from Clerks) is back as the unlikely cameraman, and wisely plays the straight man. At least Smith doesn’t shit on his old friends. Delaney is on board as the producer, with his hard-earned HDTV money; after a somewhat lame montage of possible porn movie names they decide upon “Star Whores,” and I worried that I’d be watching an hour of lame Star Wars jokes. Smith wisely plays this for a brief laugh before taking the script elsewhere, and manages to craft a hilarious, raunchy second act as they film their ultra-low budget epic.
For a movie about a porno, it manages to be somewhat less gross than Clerks 2 except for one scene, and for being slapped with NC-17 twice it only uses bouncing boobs and dangling wangs purely for comedic value. While the humor is definitely on the raunchy side, this is a lighter side of Smith; he’s learned that shock value is difficult to come by, but he still manages to slip a good one in there. Traci Lords and Katie Morgan are on board for the porn talent, but we never catch the camera leering, which is a good thing. For one lesson the movie will teach you is that there is no free titty. Smith earns his titty with this funny movie, which may not be his best, but is a fresh addition to his portfolio and a sign that he shouldn’t be written off as an aging, potty-mouthed Star Wars & comic book nerd with a camera just yet.
And I’m glad that bad boy Jay Mewes is clean again. He’s from my part of Jersey and I first met him stoned out of his mind, and know a lot of his old crew never made it out of heroin hell. Others have cleaned up their act quicker than he has, but the Hollywood temptations of easy access to your poison has to be hard. He plays his wanna-be porn star like a German-accented crazy nudist and is hard to recognize as “Jay,” which is a good thing. Apparently the “accent” is a lisp from dental surgery according to IMDb, but it’s still funny.
3 out of 4 titties. (Shave and a haircut, two bits- I saw a lady with three tits)