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Review

Filmmaker delivers crass humor with ‘Zack and Miri’

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November 6, 2008

There are a select few filmmakers in the business today that have commanded such an extreme cult following as Kevin Smith. The eight films which he has written and directed have spawned a colorful little multiverse of convention center icons-characters that have, in their own unique way, given voice to the Comic-Con nerd, turning the typical loser into the atypical hero.

And so it is with “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” only the second Smith film devoid of Jay and Silent Bob. There is little to say that the film’s title doesn’t explain well enough: Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), stubborn platonic friends since high school, need a get-rich-quick scheme to scale their mountain of debt and keep a roof over their heads.

The solution, as a flamboyantly gay Justin Long offers up at their 10-year reunion, is to make a porno. But as the cameras roll, Zack and Miri discover that what they thought was casual sex could lead to feelings neither thought existed

As with most of his other films, Smith centers his story on the soften-elusive notion of finding true happiness. It is a stereotypical dead-horse set-up that is habitually beaten with increasingly ugly and resiliently lazy scripting.

The microcosm of romantic comedy is a nauseous sensory overload; a pink and frilly wasteland of cinematic taboos. These failures of film have permeated what has become a bittersweet category of lovey-dovey fodder.

Enter “Zack and Miri,” a simply sweet story of finding love set against the non-traditional, naughty world of amateur, home-made porn. The abrupt change of scenery, coupled with gratuitous amounts of vulgarity, adds up to a refreshingly offbeat, kinky date movie-a date movie that doesn’t want to hold your hand, but be spanked! It is within this unconventionally raunchy approach that an otherwise conventional genre redux becomes so engaging.

Smith is a smart enough filmmaker to know how to traverse the usual pitfalls of an off-color, erotic comedy. Effortlessly dodging the threadbare platitudes that plague the hackneyed “American Pie” run-off, “Zack and Miri” strikes a very real emotional chord.

There is little to the story that we don’t see coming, but that doesn’t matter when the payoff feels so right. Smith’s writing, coupled with admirable performances by Rogen and Banks, make it far too easy to fall in love with Zack and Miri.

The duo rings true as an accurate personification of Americana. Finding a bit of yourself within them is as easy as falling in love.

It is this credence given to the little guy that makes Smith’s fiction so genuine. His leading roles aren’t filled by Hollywood hunks or blonde bimbos, they are real people that look and act like the everyman. His dialogue is snappy, satire dripping from an overbite of candid wit.

While other comedic writers and directors reinforce an aggregate of sub-par comedy, Smith’s poison tongue is a finger on the trigger, aiming a silver bullet into the collective hearts of pop-culture.

And while a jester in the Hollywood court, Smith knows how to relate on a common level. His exaggerated, often crude, style masks a poignancy to his writing. Get past the language, dick and fart jokes, and you just might find a lens of truth, clarifying the most lustfully taboo landscape of all: reality.

4 stars

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.