Zack and Miri Drop The Ball November 17, 2008

What on earth happened here?

As if only to demonstrate the adage “much ado about nothing”, it seems the pomp and circumstance surrounding Zack and Miri Make A Porno has turned out to be the most compelling feature of the work. Simultaneously prodding ridiculously squeamish aspects of American culture and pointing out gross inequities within the MPAA (like its anything new), Kevin Smith has successfully created the greatest pre-release circus since Troy Duffy committed ritual career suicide over The Boondock Saints. The fantastic documentary Overnight clearly documents this reality, and sadly I feel it is my job in this review to attest to the same in regards to this latest effort from my favorite purveyor of fine vulgarity.

Kevin Smith and I have a history that extends beyond a striking physical similarity. My entrance to the View-Askewniverse came in the form of 1999’s Dogma, and it for a long time held a special place in my heart as a convenient alternative to independent thought in a time of personal religious upheaval. Perhaps predictably, his films gained a certain prestige in my mind through high school, and their charm persists with me to this day.

Which makes Zack and Miri so hard to understand.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno is not a bad film by any means, and is by no means worse than, say, Mallrats or Jersey Girl. But it does represent what I perceive to be a crisis of voice for Smith. Half of the movie feels like fan service (which is expected and, as ardent fans will attest, appreciated) and the other half feels like it was written for the lowest common denominator. Not exactly poor, but written in a way I would expect the Farelly Brothers to write. The relationship between the title characters just never flies the way you would expect between the solid pairing of Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. No scary layers or complexities here, which is odd considering Smith’s pedigree of having a subtle hand for relationships despite the trademark fifth. The keystone relationship comes off more 27 Dresses than Chasing Amy.

Aside from the marquee attraction, the movie hums with characteristic – if not a touch under par – Smith wit, with Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson taking on roles other than their seminal Jay and Randal. The Office’s Craig Robinson is just OK in what many billed as a show stealing role as porno producer Delaney, and other cameos include Brandon Routh, Justin Long and a somewhat inexplicable cameo by Kenny Hotz, of Kenny vs. Spenny fame. They’re all capable, but like the film, they come into your house, have a cup of tea and a nice chat, then leave. All together its a somewhat unmemorable experience, even with the 16 frame “shit shot” that gave the MPAA the vapors.

For his next comedy, Kevin Smith needs to channel some of the charm and wit he exhibits in his live Evening with series. With his next film, the apparently “bleak as hell” Red State, it might be awhile until his next comedy, but after Zack and Miri, it might be a time to recharge.