review for Zack and Miri Make a Porno on AllMovie

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
by Perry Seibert review

On paper, Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno would appear to be a perfect project for his particular comedic style -- a blend of R-rated talk and a G-rated mushiness. The premise is a perfect high-concept pitch -- platonic BFFs Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are struggling twentysomethings who decide to make the titular adult film after their financial situation turns dire, and they meet a surprise guest at their high school reunion (a scene-stealing Justin Long) with an unusual career history. The catch, of course, is that they have no idea how doin' it will alter their close friendship.

The setup allows Smith to revel in tons of gleefully vulgar jokes, which he spreads among every member of the cast. Rogen brings his winning slacker charm to Zack, keeping his vulnerabilities poorly hidden behind a barrage of profanity. Banks matches him well; her desperation, especially when she throws herself at an old crush (a surprisingly sweet Brandon Routh), explains why she would remain devoted to her and Zack's friendship. And since both these young actors graduated from the Judd Apatow School of Raunchy Sentiment, they know how to balance the gross-out with the heartfelt. Kevin Smith's dialogue falls short of matching the dizzying highs hit by Apatow and Co., but his decision to cast his talented new collaborators was a savvy move. These progenies of modern comedy all know how to get the maximum impact out of what's on the page, but sadly, Smith himself falls back on the familiar View Askew faces like Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson -- both of whom continually dissipate the movie's freshness, as neither is talented enough to bring anything new to the table. It's not that they're bad, they're just woefully uninspired. Smith's refusal to find new creative partnerships compromises not only the performances, but the look of the film as well. Cinematographer Dave Klein ("DP Dave" to those who enjoy Smith's always entertaining commentaries) recycles the same static setups from Clerks, mimicking the 15-year-old waking-up montage almost shot for shot during the opening credits.

Chasing Amy may well have been the high point of Smith's career, revealing his talent for examining the sometimes uncomfortable collision between friendship and romantic love, but Zack and Miri still finds a fresh approach to this topic, most notably by avoiding the typical love triangle. The big scene where the two leads finally get it on in front of the camera turns out to be a highlight of Smith's career. Close up, we see the touching, intimate moment the two are sharing, while further back, we see how hilariously unpornographic it looks to everybody else on set. He wrings laughs out of the hazy border shared by love and sex without being prudish or sappy, and it's an achievement that showcases the best of what this film offers. Unfortunately, the third act never strays from the standard structure of every romantic comedy -- misunderstanding, then breakup, then will-they-or-won't-they-reunite tension. There are no surprises, and while anybody still with the film won't abandon it at this point, there is the nagging sense you're watching unrealized potential -- a problem common to all of Smith's films since Dogma. In a sense, this makes Zack and Miri stand out as Kevin Smith's most thoroughly representative film -- both for better and for worse.