In recent years, Judd Apatow has made a killing churning out crass comedies with a hefty dose of heart. But lest we forget that it wasn't so long ago that cult filmmaker Kevin Smith introduced viewers to such a style. But don't look upon the man's latest picture, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, as some sort of attempt to reclaim this thematic territory. Instead, just think of Zack and Miri as Smith merely doing what he does best, having crafted a comedy that's easy to figure out but even easier to have a lot of good laughs with.
Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks play Zack and Miri, current roomies and lifelong friends who've danced around taking their relationship to the next level. The pair returns home after their high school reunion only to find themselves stripped of power and basic utilities. But thanks to an embarrassing video of the two that's become an Internet hit, Zack comes up an idea to make some quick cash: create their own pornographic film. It's not quite what Miri had in mind, but seeing the dynamic duo's lack of other options, she agrees to participate. In just a few days, Zack and Miri gather all the ingredients they need for their project, from a particularly well-endowed star (Jason Mewes) to a script that puts an erotic spin to George Lucas' Star Wars. But the time eventually comes for Zack and Miri to be intimate with one another, an event that will change the course of their friendship either for better or for worse.
Zack and Miri is proof positive that after years of accumulating a legion of fans, Smith hasn't lost the touch that made him famous to begin with. Key to Smith's success is his realistic knack for capturing characters. These are the sort of people you'd love to make friends with (and yep, that includes the sex-starved dim bulb Smith veteran Mewes plays) and, God forbid, actually care about. But more importantly, Zack and Miri doesn't lose its head in the clouds when it comes to the plot.
Smith acknowledges the outrageousness of the story, especially when the turn of events forces the titular duo into a rather awkward position. The film's life lessons aren't learned with as much difficulty as those in Chasing Amy, nor is the ending that hard to surmise. But while the umpteen American Pie sequels are content rehashing old sex comedy cliches, Smith is actually trying to do something sweet and even a little profound with the formula. The fact that he does a pretty good job of it is a treat to both Smith fans and those tired of lazy genre retreads the likes of College and Sex Drive.
However, in addition to making Zack and Miri deeper than the average sex farce, Smith never loses sight of his other top goal: making you soil yourself in laughter. Smith is the Da Vinci of foul language, and with Zack and Miri, he paints a portrait of profanity the likes of which few filmmakers are willing to try and replicate. I dare not recount some of the events that took place, but let's just say even the most cynical of viewers will get a few chuckles shocked out of them. The whole picture is a hilarious and charming experience, partially due to Smith's script but also because of its stars. At this point, Rogen can play a disheveled schlub in his sleep, but luckily, he comes across with an endearing performance, turning Zack into the type of slacker you truly end up rooting for. I still say Banks wasn't the best choice for Miri (Smith's original pick of Rosario Dawson would've fit much better), though I'll admit that her cheery performance grew on me after a while.
There's been quite a bit of brouhaha stirred up about Zack and Miri Make a Porno, particularly surrounding its scandalous title. But trust me when I say that this is a film with more soul than the dreadful dreck Hollywood shoves into multiplexes on a regular basis. So what if there's a few taboo words bandied about? There's a lot more to be concerned about than Zack and Miri, a well-meaning romp with the best of intentions and even better jokes.