'Zack and Miri': Hard-Core Hilarity

Kevin Smith directs this comedy about a pair of longtime friends (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) who decide to make a pornographic movie in order to earn some much-needed cash.
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008

Far, far into the future, when the archaeologists uncover the ruins of our civilization and marvel at our social decay, perhaps they will come across a copy of Kevin Smith's new movie, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." They will undoubtedly point to it as a sad hallmark of our times. As soon as they stop giggling.

They'll marvel, as we do, at Hollywood's endless propensity for making movies in which lumpy, double-chinned losers get the hot blond babe. They'll look at this story of a bone-cold winter in Pittsburgh, where a schlub named Zack (Seth Rogen) has a lifelong platonic friend named Miri (Elizabeth Banks), and wonder why this nice, gorgeous girl isn't somewhere else. Cleveland, say.

And, even though they've seen this formulaic, crude comedy before, they'll still probably sit through it, just as millions of filmgoers will this weekend. Why? Because, as tasteless as it often is, it's still funny. Which is the only test that matters.

Times are hard for coffee shop clerk Zack. The electricity and water get cut off at home, and, after an unfortunate incident with a video camera, he teams up with his housemate Miri to make a porn flick in hopes of generating cash. Miri agrees to have sex on tape with Zack, who appears to have the career prospects (and muscle tone) of a turnip.

In a shocking twist, Zack's sex-crazed loser buddies are happy to help out.

There's a weekend hockey goalie with an attitude who mans the camera. A married bud with a little spare cash and an irritable wife puts up some production money. Casting calls turn up various lap dancers, geeks and goofballs. Zack and Miri's first idea is to make a sex spoof called (I think we can print this) "Star Whores," which would surely send George Lucas screaming for a copyright lawyer. They wind up filming a different movie (whose title I think I can spell, but I know I can't print here) after hours in the Bean and Gone coffee shop where Zack works.

Half of the fun, as Reel 1 turns to Reels 2 and 3, is spotting the inside jokes from director Smith. First, you'll notice that the camera operator (Jason Mewes) is Jay of "Clerks" and other Smith films. You'll probably get that Bubbles, the stripper with a penchant for ah, soap bubbles, is former porn legend Traci Lords. Smith also made his low-budget first feature, "Clerks," after hours in the convenience stores where he worked -- just the way Zack makes his film. And you might recall that Smith, who is sort of schlubby himself, once photographed his very attractive wife for Playboy, which might be where the porn idea comes from.

But mainly what you'll notice is that after several years of making bad movies, Smith decided to follow a hotter trail: the one left by sex-farce impresario Judd Apatow. So this film feels, looks and sounds like the menage a trois love child of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Sex doesn't mean anything, these movies say, until you have it with someone else. Then it means everything.

It won't take much to recognize that Rogen is reprising his standard role as the everyschlump, a non-threatening loser with a good if goofy heart. He's after sex, sure, but not at any cost, and not without some sense that love might actually (a) exist and (b) be worthwhile. Zack discovers he's so committed to this idea that he delivers a speech to his beloved while she's on the toilet, which leaves no room to doubt his sincerity, if not his timing.

But, mostly, the excavators of the future will sit through this one and note that despite the crude humor, the standard plot and one gross-out scene, they laughed out loud more than they should, perhaps because everyone on the screen seems to be having so much fun and because, at heart, the movie wants its couple to find each other. This was originally rated NC-17, and somehow I'm thinking that version will survive on DVD. Zack and Miri would have wanted future generations to see it, that's for sure.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (102 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for strong, crude sexual content including dialogue, nudity and pervasive language.

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