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Movie review

A bawdy, funny 'Porno' for tyros

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks star in Kevin Smith's latest. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks star in Kevin Smith's latest. (Darren Michaels/The Weinstein Company)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / October 31, 2008
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It's just possible that Kevin Smith has found a way to beat the economic recession and the energy crisis at the same time. Regardless of which candidate takes next week's election, this soft-centered, down-and-dirty comedy foresees an era of mom-and-pop pornography that could well erase the national debt and lift the national libido. At the least, we'll stay warm through the winter.

Rudely silly rather than transgressively shocking, "Zack and Miri" is the sort of bawdy but fundamentally decent farce you could take Grandma to, provided Grandma were familiar with the oeuvre of Traci Lords. Seth Rogen, on loan from the Judd Apatow universe, and Elizabeth Banks (last seen playing Laura Bush in "W.") are longtime best friends, roommates, and losers living in the Pittsburgh area. Times are tight and Zack's job as a surly barista isn't cutting it. When the water and electricity are shut off, desperate measures are called for.

Mickey and Judy would have put on a show in a barn. Smith, the strip-mall Preston Sturges responsible for "Clerks," "Dogma," and "Chasing Amy," understands that porn has become the great American leveler - an Internet-fueled democracy of basic animal urges open to any entrepreneur with a digital camera. So Zack writes a script (this being Smith, it's initially a series of obscene variations on "Star Wars"), finds a cast and crew (this being Smith, longtime companions Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson turn up; so does Apatow semi-regular Craig Robinson), and starts rolling.

The jokes in the first half of "Zack and Miri" are raucous and liberating, riffing on the notion that sexual stallions and bubbleheaded vixens are just out there, waiting for that one Craigslist ad that would allow them to hop off their Facebook pages and onto the screen. Mewes's character is a priapic Joe Average who walks in and is ready to go. Lords herself shows up as a local sex worker; this is a little like enlisting Whitey Bulger for a supporting role in "The Departed."

If you go in expecting explicit body parts and illegal acts, you'll be disappointed; Smith wants his R rating intact. More to the point, he'd rather laugh at the absurdity of people making a sex film when they should just be having sex. For all their teasing camaraderie, Zack and Miri are drearily uptight about each other; the most outrageous laughs come in an early high school reunion scene when the class dreamboat (Brandon Routh of "Superman Returns") brings his husband, a gay porn star played with all stops out by Justin Long. The real gag of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," though, is that making a porno is work, not sex. Zack discovers to his surprise that he's a pretty good producer, and as his confidence grows, so does his certainty that he doesn't want anybody "acting" with Miri except himself. Rogen's face is an unmade bed of sexual and romantic frustration.

Banks, as a particular kind of small-town potty-mouth beauty, matches Rogen stride for stride, but both actors seem confused when "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" decides to become an conventional romance in the home stretch. Smith makes the smart point that real lovemaking looks nothing like the aerobic Iron Man contests of porn, and he knows why, too: Other peoples' emotional intimacy can be downright embarrassing. Here, sadly, it's also boring.

If Smith's mushy stuff felt half as fresh as his knack for intelligent crudeness, "Zack and Miri" might be one of the better movies of the year, and certainly the most scurrilous. The irony is that with a title as good as this one, he went ahead and made a Mickey and Judy movie anyway.

MOVIE REVIEW

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

Written and directed by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Justin Long, Traci Lords, Jason Mewes, Craig Robinson

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 101 minutes

Rated: R (strong crude sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, and pervasive language)

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