‘Zack And Miri Make A Porno’: Boffo, By Kurt Loder

Even with Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith doesn't quite add up to Judd Apatow.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” the new Kevin Smith movie, is about a guy and a girl — lifelong friends, now platonic roommates — who are flat broke and swamped with unpaid bills. Although they’ve never had sex together (“It would be like f—ing my brother,” says Miri), they decide to make a porn film to get out of debt.

The picture has a knockabout charm, thanks to the actors; but its premise seems flawed. Zack and Miri have been spy-cammed walking around the coffee shop where Zack works in their underwear (and less) by two snotty kids, who post the results on YouTube; a homemade porn film, Zack decides, could profitably exploit this sudden Internet stardom. Well, maybe. But since they have to tap out their friends for funds just to shoot the movie, where will they subsequently get the money to produce and promote the necessary DVDs?

Another plot defect is a function of the picture’s casting. Since Zack is played by the famously funny and lovable Seth Rogen, and Miri by the adorable Elizabeth Banks, and since both of their characters complain at length (and of course hyper-graphically) about how incredibly horny they are, it’s hard to accept that they haven’t already given in to the obvious solution — however quasi-incestuous it might seem — and had sex together off-camera before taking the even more daunting step of having it on-camera.

There’s a larger problem, too. While Smith’s 1994 “Clerks” was a milestone in the sweet-and-salacious comedy genre that’s since been polished to blockbuster perfection by Judd Apatow, at this point “Zack and Miri” — which features several actors from Apatow’s movies (Rogen and Banks were both in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) — seems like an attempted Apatow picture that doesn’t quite make the grade. This may be a little unfair: The movie does have some funny, very Smithian moments. But his generally crotch-centric humor, without the wild situations and verbal pizzazz of the Apatow films, can seem like little more than a string of “dirty” jokes — which in turn seems a little dated.

Still, Rogen and Banks have a warm, supple chemistry; and their big sex scene (which is completely nongraphic) has a wonderful romantic glow. (Score one for the director.) They also get strong support from Craig Robinson (the club doorman in Apatow’s “Knocked Up”) as a friend who’s been wheedled out of money to become a “producer” of the film and who deludedly anticipates a cash avalanche. (“I’m gonna be Oprah-rich!” he crows.) Smith’s longtime foil Jason Mewes is on hand as a studly recruit, and so are two actual porn stars — the long-retired Traci Lords, as Bubbles, the continuity girl (who shows no skin); and the still-active and irresistibly perky Katie Morgan (who shows lots, including a pair of hugely fake breasts). There’s also a surprise appearance by two fairly well-known actors playing a gay couple at a high-school reunion, and they’re so unexpected, and so into their roles, that they walk away with the scene.

But apart from a freewheeling interlude in which Zack and friends lounge around trying to think up a good, punny title for their porno (“Edward Penis Hands”? “Lawrence of the Labia”?), the jokes with which the picture is stuffed are too predictably crass and dudish, and after a while they drag the movie down. Can Smith ever outgrow this sort of rote, tired raunch? Or does that just cue another punchline?

Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s reviews of “Splinter,” “Let the Right One In” and “Decampment.”

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