Kevin Smith once again merges the profane and the profound
Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are roommates who have known each other forever, so living together is purely platonic. That they haven't done much with their lives and rely on each other to keep their home, heat and water bonds them much further than any romantic attraction could. But when their bills catch up with them, they have to figure out a way to make some money, and a chance encounter at an awful high-school reunion introduces them to an answer to their problems, they may have to complicate their situation and make a porno movie.
Sure, it's a bit of a leap, but as Miri notes, their debts are at the point when people start having sex for money, so they gather some friends and local exhibitionists and plan out a pretty marketable idea for a porno. Of course it's not as easy as turning on a camera and going at it, but the roadbumps the film faces are matched by the issues that arise for Zack and Miri, who thought their friendship wouldn't be something sex could change. As anyone with enough life experience knows immediately once the idea is broached in the film, there's no way two friends can have sex and not have it affect their relationship. Especially when one of those pals is Banks, who is just incredibly adorable and fun to watch. She makes it wholly believable that there could be something between these two, unlike similar relationships in other films.
With Banks playing Miri, and Rogen as Zack, the film is stacked with funny up top, but Smith's films have always been loaded with memorable roles from top to bottom, and this movie is no different, except that his usual cast, aside from Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, isn't there. Instead, the casting was influenced by Rogen, and resulted in the freshest cast Smith's had since Mallrats. Craig Robinson ("The Office") is brilliantly funny as Zach's put-upon pal, in a performance that tells me he can definitely lead a film on his own, especially when he argues with his wife (an excellent cameo by Tisha Campbell.) Also fun is Ricky Mabe's turn as wide-eyed Barry, the young actor, and porn star Katie Morgan, who plays her part with a sweetness that, combined with Mewes' hard-edged innocence, cuts the harsher elements of the story and helps the romantic angles.
In watching this movie, it would be harder than usual to finger it as a Smith movie, at least if Mewes and Anderson weren't involved, as it looks far more polished visually (like Jersey Girl), the dialogue is far less dense, and the characters escape the Askewniverse ghetto (though the music remains kick-ass, with some excellent choices, especially during the reunion, and there's still hockey and Star Wars references throughout.) One wonders if perhaps the Judd Apatow school of comedy has brought mainstream film closer to Smith's style, or if Smith is moving closer to the Apatow school of comedy.
If I have a problem with any part of this film (and I do, including the overly sweet, almost morale-ish tone the film takes on) the big one is how it all wraps up. Sure you can see how it's all going to end from a mile away, but the pacing of the finale quarter of the movie makes it feel like there's something missing. When the credits began, I was genuinely surprised, as I thought "That's it?" The finale is abrupt, but in thinking about it, there's not much else to be said about the characters (outside of a Fast Times style set of epilogue screens, which, though cliched, tend to be worth it if done well.) Without any lingering plot points to settle though, the artificial sweetness of the oddly-paced ending will have to do (though you can check the extras to see an alternate.) At least Smith cut through the treacle with a perfectly placed bit of his trademark filth.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that does a fine job with the film's dialogue, but it doesn't have a whole lot more to do except pumping up the fine soundtrack (enjoy the pounding of "Let Me Clear My Throat" if you will.) There's nothing wrong with the presentation (it is a dialogue-driven comedy, after all) but it feels a bit bland for today's systems.
Though there's no commentary, Popcorn Porn: The Making of 'Zach and Miri' goes a long way toward filling the void, as the 74-minute documentary covers every aspect of the production of the film, from 1996, when Smith first started thinking about the concept, through the wrap party, with plenty of detail on both the film's signature special effect shot and the ratings battle with the MPAA. In all, it's an excellent making-of piece that's informative and entertaining. If you want to go even further behind the scenes, collected on the DVD are the 22 "Money Shots" webisodes which chronicled the making of the film. The 50 minutes of video, which have previously been available online, offer a pretty candid look at the making of the film, mixing sit-downs with Banks and Rogen with goofy interviews by Mabe and a series of PSAs titled "The More You Porno." Among the highlights are the Banks/Rogen bits in which they talk about their porn preferences and the final bit, involving fake semen, which is a hoot, especially due to Robinson's presence.
The cast's appearance at the 2008 San Diego ComicCon is presented here as well, with the 23-minute panel made up mostly of Q&A with the audience. It's mostly the same enjoyable time you'd expect from a Smith appearance, with the added benefit of hearing from the cast as well. If by this point you aren't tired of Rogen's "heh heh" laugh that he does constantly (in each and every extra) you are a stronger man than me.
The remainder of the bonuses are outtakes, with the 13-minute "Gang-Bang," a collection of cuts, bloopers and ad-libs (sadly nothing all that hilarious), joined by the eight-minute "Seth vs. Justin: Battle for Improvisational Supremacy - Part I," which has the footage of Rogen and Justin Long, as they ad-lib during one of the film's funniest scenes. Unfortunately, it's only half of the featurette, as the other half is a Blockbuster exclusive. Shame.
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