For comedy fans the combination of director and writer Kevin Smith (Clerks) and actor Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) is something to get excited about. The plot, and this won’t be a surprise for anyone familiar with Smith’s oeuvre, centres around a pair of slackers, high school buddies and flatmates Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) who are broke, cold and amounting to nothing in Pittsburgh around Thanksgiving time.
After a chance meeting with a gay porn star at a school re-union (isn’t it always the way?) Zack sees a way for them to pay their bills, make a fortune and escape their crummy way of life – have sex on camera, and recruit other people to have sex on camera too. As the... ahem... bonkers plan comes together (ahem again), success is almost assured, but at the prospect of consummating their long time friendship, Zack and Miri find their perfectly balanced relationship is under pressure.
Despite the title, this film is not the sub-American Pie schlock many might expect. Sure, for those rain-coated cinema-goers attracted purely by the words 'make a porno', there are enough boobs, knobs and wanking jokes to justify the ticket price, and, true, it’s not without its erotic moments. But like Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin, the movie’s name suggests a far less intelligent and sensitive effort than the end product.
This is a very funny film, with one stand-out, gross-out moment and lots and lots of laughs, some of them risqué (the race ones, though, rather than the rude ones) and many of them emerging from Miri and Zack’s attempts to think up a suitable porn film name. When they finally come up with Star Whores, accompanied by a host of hilariously good puns on Han Solo and Luke Skywalker et al, you begin to suspect that Smith had the porn film idea first, and built the rest of the project around it.
Of course, the plot lends itself to plentiful humour, but the strongest element is the cast. Banks is perfect for the role of the unconventional, sweet and frequently crude Miri. And, always a safe bet in an offbeat comedy, Seth Rogen, despite not being the most attractive sight in his underwear, nonetheless manages to win the audience over once again as the potential love interest.
But this is also a buddy movie and the supporting cast are also strong, with a particularly hilarious performance by Craig Robinson (from the US version of The Office) as Delaney, Zack’s co-worker at the coffee shop.
Smith is great on the minutiae of everyday life, astutely creating well meaning drifters like Zack, weary marrieds such as his high school peers and oddball characters like Bubbles, a scary Toyah lookalike (played by real life porn star Traci Lords) whose name is a clue to her special talent. He also accurately depicts the intense relationships which spring up between friends who have too much time on their hands and a proclivity for calling each other dude well past the age where it’s cool to do so.
What he also achieves in this film, perhaps more unexpectedly, is the really believable transition of Zack and Miri from best friends to potential lovers, subtly done, with some great observations on the way sex can change a previously uncomplicated relationship.
Unlike some of Smith’s previous films this is as slick-looking as any other romantic comedy, though still distinct with its great, quirky soundtrack and that quick-witted yet naturalistic dialogue the director does so well.
It’s only in the final third of the film, when it comes to resolving the romantic plot, that Zack and Miri starts to conform to hackneyed rom-com stereotypes, with an ending so predictable and cheesy that it’s almost a spoof, though not quite spoofy enough to justify itself. It's an aspect of the movie which is more offensive than any of the porn stuff, and which lets down what is otherwise a winning, warm-hearted, X-rated love story.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno is on general release.