Judge Clark Douglas writes softcore DVD reviews. He's not REALLY reviewing the film, it just looks that way.
Our review of Zack And Miri, published February 9th, 2009, is also available.
What would you do to get out of debt?
"I'm a guy. You give me two popsicle sticks and a rubber band and I'll find a way to f—-- it like a filthy MacGyver!"
Facts of the Case
Zack (Seth Rogen, Knocked Up) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks, Meet Dave) live together. Oh, they're not a couple. No, they just live in the same apartment, sharing the rent and the bills. They're best friends, and they've known each other since first grade. Times have been kind of hard lately (mostly due to some rather irresponsible financial decisions), and the bills are piling up. Before long, the water is turned off, the lights go out, and it seems like Zack and Miri might just wind up losing their apartment. In a rare moment of inspiration, Zack comes up with an idea: what if he and Miri starred in a porno film? Surely they could make enough money to pay the bills and the rent, right? After some initial hesitation, the pair jump headfirst into the project, and put together a crew. Joining in the fun are Zack's co-worker Delaney (Craig Robinson, The Office), the befuddled Lester (Jason Mewes, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), a woman with a unique way of blowing bubbles (former porn star Traci Lords, Tailhouse Rock), an amateur cinematographer named Deacon (Jeff Anderson, Clerks), and the sexually adventurous Stacey (active porn star Katie Morgan, Sex Trek: Where No Man Has Cum B4). Can this crew of amateurs put together a porn movie and save Zack and Miri's apartment? More important, can Zack and Miri have sex on camera "professionally" without being forced to confront their increasingly obvious feelings for each other?
In recent years, Judd Apatow and his band of merry cohorts have been taking the world of cinematic comedy by storm. Critics love Apatow's smart, funny, vulgar comedies, and audiences are really starting to love them, too. Not to be outdone, the ambitious Kevin Smith has made an attempt to jump onboard the Apatow gravy train with Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Oh sure, Kevin Smith has a unique comedic voice, and this is still a Kevin Smith film. Even so, Smith has put aside his own cinematic universe and created an entirely new one here. This is a universe that makes room for the likes of Apatow veterans such as Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, and Craig Robinson. A universe that still has room for Jason Mewes, but no room for Jay and Silent Bob. Why don't we call it the "Apasmithverse"? Or not. All meanderings aside, one does get the distinct feeling that Smith is trying to demonstrate that he can be just as smart, funny, vulgar and sensitive as Apatow. So how well does he pull it off?
Not terribly well, I'm sad to say. Zack and Miri Make a Porno is certainly a lot funnier than something like, say, Wild Hogs, but it pales in comparison to the films that it seems to be imitating. While Apatow's films often feel like wise movies about immature characters, Zack and Miri Make a Porno feels like an immature movie about immature characters. This is a film that still gets off on the shock value of saying dirty words. It's a film that goes out of its way at every possible opportunity to make some sort of reference to genitals. Quite honestly, it feels just a little bit desperate. Smith throws in everything but the kitchen sink here in terms of dirty gags, and it just gets to be rather tiresome after a while. Yes, yes, we know you think it's funny and cool to offer 10 minutes of sex jokes that riff on Star Wars (Star Whores, anyone?), but isn't this cast capable of better?
If you aren't easily entertained by endless swearing, a handful of sci-fi references, and a generous dose of nudity, you may find Zack and Miri Make a Porno somewhat old hat. Despite the controversial nature of the film's subject matter (my local theatre refused to put the word "porno" on the signs, and simply sold tickets to Zack and Miri), what we've got here is another variation on the same old "let's put on a show to save fill-in-the-blank" film. Zack and Miri need to get some money to pay the bills, so they decide to put on a show. It's a show that involves having sex in front of a camera and a few friends, but a show nonetheless. The obligatory romantic subplot is sweet, but like the rest of the film, it feels like a 15-year-old boy's version. There are laughs in the film, but absolutely none of the wisdom that elevates the similarly crude Apatow films to such tremendous heights.
The hi-def transfer is quite sharp throughout. Blacks are solid and deep, and flesh tones are accurate. Background detail and facial detail are excellent. Very, very faint grain can be seen from time to time, but it's nothing to worry about. Like most Smith films, this one doesn't have a whole lot to offer on a visual level (Smith isn't exactly known for his elaborate production values), but the film looks good. The audio is clear and clean, though I did think the music was dialed down a bit lower than usual for this sort of thing. That's okay by me, considering that I found the soundtrack selections rather bland and uninteresting. Otherwise, dialogue and sound design are well-balanced. Not a lot of action (pardon the pun) here, but it's a respectable audio track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With this cast, it's impossible for Zack and Miri Make a Porno to be completely terrible. I know that Seth Rogen is quickly turning into one of those polarizing comedians that people either love or hate, but I really like the guy. He has a way of turning incredibly nasty dialogue into something gently warm and funny. Justin Long turns a one-note joke of a character into a very funny role, and Craig Robinson continues to demonstrate that he should play a role in every single comedy. With the exception of one misguided scene, Elizabeth Banks is funny and likable as Miri, and Jason Mewes is pretty much Jason Mewes, despite the fact that he isn't playing his iconic "Jay" character. The only real misfire is Brandon Routh, who some have given points simply for participating in a very crass scene. He's just as stiff and flat here as he was in Superman Returns, offering nothing other than the opportunity for people to point and say, "Hey, that's the guy from Superman Returns!"
This Blu-ray disc also earns credit for being loaded down with a ton of extras. "Popcorn Porn: The Making of Zack and Miri" is no mere EPK-style featurette, but rather an in-depth, 75-minute documentary that covers every aspect of making the film and features interviews with everyone. Now brace yourself for this: you also get 95 minutes of deleted and extended scenes. That's pretty much a deleted movie. 47 minutes are dedicated to the "Money Shots Webisodes" that were made for fans during the film's production, and we get 23 minutes of Smith and the cast at Comic-Con. Finally, we have 13 minutes of bloopers, and seven minutes of Seth Rogen and Justin Long cracking each other up. The disc is also enabled with BD Live. A very strong package, with only the lack of an audio commentary failing to give this set a perfect score. In fact, I'd actually say that I enjoyed watching the bonus features more than the actual film.
It's really not terrible, but I was hoping that Zack and Miri Make a Porno would be a lot better than this. Perhaps worth a rental, but this film pales in comparison to the likes of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. Perhaps Kevin Smith should stop trying to be Judd Apatow and just be Kevin Smith.
Guilty with a sentence of time served.
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