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If it's so easy, how come everybody doesn't do it?


Zack and Miri Make a Porno
(2008)

Watching a Kevin Smith movie with any expectation of a rewarding experience is asking for trouble, so it’s unnecessarily instructive that his dribbling “BFFs make a porn movie and discover they had feelings for each other all along” is as literal and vacant as its title suggests. Smith has the comic sensibility and emotional insight of a 13-year-old boy, who would be precisely his target audience if he weren’t so old and out-of-touch (and has been ever since his one bright spot, his debut)

Like the considerably more successful Judd Apatow, all Smith calling card as a comedy force is a succession of less-than-salubrious anecdotes from his uncensored personal life. Apatow at least tries to make his autobiographical scripts internally consistent (although, it looks like his dependency on real life for inspiration is now yielding ever-diminishing returns), whereas Smith, with nothing to say, is left grasping at the most rote plotlines imaginable. Smith always had a strictly limited audience anyway, and by most indications they got older with him rather than crossed to new generations. While he’s an engaging raconteur, he is simply a terrible filmmaker and a very repetitive writer.

The two things may be connected. Smith’s such a gobshite that he most likely prefers listening to the sound of his own voice than taking the time to hone his material. Zack and Miri has an attention-grabbing title, but that’s basically all there is to it. Smith has always worn his relentless crudity as a badge of pride. It comes so naturally to him that he’d be bereft if he didn’t have it as a crutch. It ensures that he spends little time really think about scenes or developing gags. Why bother refining a line when you can have one character shit in another character’s face?

The premise is, for porn-obsessed Smith, doubtless a dream come true but the irony is that his script verges on the engaging in the opening stages, before the money-making scheme comes into focus. The best sequence concerns Rogen and Banks’ 10-year high school reunion, where Justin Long and Brandon Routh make the most of cameos as characters who re-affirm the director’s juvenile attitude to sexuality.

Appropriately, for a shitty film, hairy schlub Seth Rogen plays Zack. He’s ideal casting as a Smith alter ego, a boorish, unfunny comedy actor with an irritating manner. As one would expect, every line he delivers is a string of ineffectual expletives. In contrast, the unfortunate Elizabeth Banks plays Miri and brings great comic timing and warmth to a role that really doesn’t deserve it. Any moments where the film kind-of works are down to her.

It could be that I don’t like the film because I’m a big old prude, or it could just be that Smith stinks as a filmmaker. There’s an additional element to his approach that is even clearer here than in his previous lame-footed attempts at romcom; he is ultimately a deeply conservative writer-director, when you strip away the coarseness and vulgarity. Or maybe he’s just deeply unimaginative.

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