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What were 'Zack and Miri' thinking?

Posted at 5:21 PM on October 31, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Kevin Smith's "Zack and Miri make a Porno," promises one thing, delivers another, and leaves you with the question 'what were they thinking?'

Confused?

"Zack and Miri" will do that to you. Ostensibly it's about how two poverty-stricken friends, played with wide-eyed good humor by Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks, decide the way to solve their financial woes is simply to make a dirty film.

They pull in a bunch of friends and other ne'er-do-wells played by Kevin Smith regulars such as Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, and try to get down to it. Of course there are complications, not least that Zack and Miri are lying to themselves when they say they are nothing more than friends.

The movie promises a raunchfest comedy, but delivers a run-of-the-mill sentimental love story wrapped in a gross-out farce. Last weekend Smith told the New York Times that the challenge nowadays is to find what the paper called "the increasingly transgressive jokes which will surprise and amuse his audience."

"As time goes by, it gets harder and harder to find things that haven't been done a zillion times before," Smith told the Times.

Even amongst the deluge of off-color one-liners and graphic discussions of the sexual acts, there are a few moments in Zack and Miri which are breathtakingly crude.

It's not for everyone, but I'll admit I laughed aloud a great deal, and cringed in a few places too. Yet the movie is unsatisfying.

Coming away from the theater the question kept coming up: what were they thinking? And the 'they' here is not the film makers, who knew exactly what they were doing, but the characters.

The credibility challenge of "Zack and Miri" is not that friends feel they have no option but to make a dirty movie. No, it's that the central characters who are smart and articulate in their own amusingly crude way, suddenly develop the cluelessness of a brick wall when it comes to the implications of making porn in a Midwestern town and the realities of their own feelings for one another.

This is a shame, because there could have been some intellectual heft to this movie, but it's been left at the teenage boy fantasy level.

Kevin Smith expects "Zack and Miri make a Porno" will be his highest grossing film, which seems like a good bet.

(Supposedly Irvine Welsh of "Trainspotting" fame is trying to get his sequel novel "Porno" made into a film, although it's slow going. That book dealt with the issues of sex workers in a straightforward and pretty funny way. This is a film I'd really like to see. )

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