Tuesday, Sep. 09, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Written and directed by Kevin Smith. With Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Craig Robinson, Justin Long.

As he showed in the early films Clerks and Chasing Amy, Smith was Judd Apatow before Apatow was cool. He knew all the bad words, and how to twist them into comedy; he found the poignancy in male bluster, the warmth in a guy's rivalry with and adoration of that other species, The Girl.

But deep into the Age of Apatow, Smith has had problems relocating his mojo. The early parts of Zack and Miri — which was originally rated NC-17 but received an R on appeal — are full of gags and situations that Apatow would have discarded. Things look desperate for quite a while, as lifelong, living-together, nonsexual friends Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) struggle to overcome poverty by shooting a porn movie in which they will star. What the heck, it's just acting and we're just friends. In the first half of the film, the one surefire laugh-educer is Long, as the frog-throated gay porn-star pal of Miri's high-school crush a decade before. Come on, a Supporting Actor nomination for Long's spot-on turn. Anything to save him from a lifetime of Apple commercials.

You'll wait till Zack and Miri finally get it on to feel the sparks the film wanted to kindle all along. Then it gets the old Smith vibe and dissolves all reservations. Rogen exports his bearish charm from Apatow to Smith, and Banks flashes a young-womanly appeal. The movie's still not as funny as it might have been, but you're sure there's a director who knows how to work with his heart and his head. No jokes, please.