CINEMA: Boogie Knights

zackandmiriposter_3.jpgZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008, directed by Kevin Smith, 102 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC

The disappointment of director Kevin Smith’s latest film isn’t so much that it isn’t very sexy, or is only sporadically amusing or even that his ability to stage a scene remains stubbornly amateurish.  What lets you down is that the title characters, played by the ingratiating slob Seth Rogen and the bubbly Elizabeth Banks, don’t have the shameless guts to actually let it all hang out in a porn film.  Smith wants to titillate us with that great title yet his film is so intent with being a proper romantic comedy that it lacks the nerve to create lead characters more daring than ourselves.

With Zack & Miri Make A Porno, Smith finally gathers the gumption to leave Jersey, setting the film in Pittsburgh while his working class slacker milieu remains the same.  Zack & Miri are two old high school friends who have lived together platonically for years while drudging through bad retail jobs.  Rogen’s Zack is much like the characters he has played in the past: full of half-cocked confidence and blustery proclamations that barely cover his insecurities.  So good recently as Laura Bush in W, Elizabeth Banks’ Miri begins the film here as a much more unusual cinematic creature: a sweet and unabashedly promiscuous woman who is itching to get laid.  When their finances fall through and the utilities are turned off, Zack gets the idea that they should raise funds by videoing themselves having sex and selling it through their class reunion e-mail list.  Who wouldn’t be curious to see ex-classmates en flagrante?  Miri is initially suspicious, but stinging with humiliation over an old high school crush who spurns her horny advances, she agrees to shtup her best pal Zack on camera in order to get them out of hock.

Smith, a notoriously good Catholic boy, likes his sex nasty (at one point graphically showing the danger of ill-prepared anal sex) but he cannot overcome his discomfort with a heroine willing to enjoy sex outside of a relationship.  OnceMiri and Zack do the dirty deed, Smith’s script transforms her into a faithful and true girlfriend, unable to consider going through with the scheme as planned.  Now that she’s seen the light (Mira even confesses to enjoying Zack’s smell! Ew !), the film spends its final third tidying up all the loose ends by sanctifying their naughty act with apologies and vows of love and fidelity.

The helium-voiced true life porn star Katie Morgan is on hand to show us what nature and science has bestowed upon her, Smith regular JasonMewes (Jay of “Silent Bob and Jay” fame) is around to talk crude and parade his nut sack yet despite his smutty gags, Smith ultimately falls back into a default mode as conventional as any Meg Ryan romance.  Smith has even cast Tracy Lords to remind us how sad aging porn stars can be.  While he may enjoy the idea of shocking us with his porno premise, Smith is ultimately too frustratingly Victorian to wrestle with the possibilities.  Or to even pop a boner about it.

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