Kevin Smith's life and public persona is quite the open book. He said after Clerks II that the door on the View Askewniverse was closed (or at least closed over), that none shall pass through it and Smith could go onto become a (gasp!) filmmaker! So what's his first film out from underneath the broad umbrella of Red Bank, New Jersey? A film about Pittsburgh roommates who make a porn film for money and fall in love in the process. Hey, nobody ever said personal growth and evolution was easy.
What was surprisingly easy was the cast that Smith managed to secure a solid ensemble of proven talents along with retaining some members of the Smith stock company. Zack is played by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), and his roommate Miri is played by Elizabeth Banks (Scrubs). A recent high school reunion includes a crisis of sorts for Miri, which happens for most people during high school reunions I suppose. But more importantly, the two have run out of money to pay for water and heat, and now the roof is becoming a shady proposition. Zack works at a coffee shop, and with the help of his co-worker and friend Delaney (Craig Robinson, Pineapple Express), they manage to get money and equipment to shoot their own porn film. It makes reasonable sense to them, the money is necessary, and they make a convincing appeal to the voyeuristic nature of the public. To paraphrase something Zack says during making the argument to Miri, "EVERYBODY wants to see ANYBODY (love). I hate Rosie O'Donnell, but if somebody said "I got a tape of Rosie O'Donnell getting (loved) stupid" I'd be like "Why the (hell) aren't we watching that right now?" Makes sense to me.
And the production isn't limited to Zack and Miri, there's Lester (Smith's friend Jason Mewes), Stacey and Bubbles (current and former porn actress Katie Morgan and Tracy Lords, respectively) and Barry (Ricky Mabe), in a film shot by Deacon (Jeff Anderson, Clerks). The type of film that Zack starts writing and directing is a Star Wars parody, because this is a Kevin Smith movie after all, so cue the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker porn names. But a hiccup in production causes the cast and crew to recalibrate the film's setting and vision to Zack's coffee shop, and that's when Zack and Miri shoot their scene and of course, they fall in love because well, they've been building up to things for a little bit. It's really less about the sensationalism of the porn film, as it starts out as being getting the gang together for the porn film and for all the goofy stuff that might entail. But things do transform into a love story of some twisted sort, and Rogen and Banks pull that off in a fairly convincing manner.
Convincing chemistry and funny title aside, the film feels a little bit stilted compared to other Smith tomes, perhaps because it's his first work that's not set in New Jersey or does not feel a little autobiographical. Rogen, Robinson and some other actors in the cast appear to be more used to working off the page, and watching them stick to the script as they did makes them look uncomfortable. It's not that they're bad, far from it, because Robinson provides arguably the funniest moments in the flick, it just feels...weird. Anderson and Mewes do well in their roles, but they're also familiar with how Smith works and how closely he sticks to the script. Because of their slightly extended time in the film, you can almost feel the clash of styles going on. But you know it's a Smith film because of all the Star Wars talk though.
With that said, the fact that Smith spells out what's going on, serves it on a silver platter to you and you go along with the requisite witty dialogue, the film's charm and heart help show you what kind of filmmaker he can be. When the obligatory scene with Zack and Miri on a palette of coffee beans does happen, he shoots it almost exclusively from Banks' expressions, and her face shows fulfillment, satisfaction, whatever else you call it. It's funny, when a movie whose title (and story) are soaked in porno, the sexiest and most beautiful shot in the film involves just a face. That's the cinematic choice of a guy who once penned what "snowballing" is, but that same guy has got quite a bit of talent.The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, Smith and longtime collaborator/cinematographer Dave Klein replicate the grays of the Pittsburgh winter adequately. It's a drab, flat film in appearance and at times, designed to reflect low production values, and the Blu-ray disc replicates this well. You can point out some fine hairs on Rogen's head and face, and some detail on Mewes' tattoos, and flesh tones are reproduced accurately from the film. The image lacks a lot of consistent image detail, blacks don't tend to stand out and aren't too deep, and when it comes to a multi-dimensional feel, aside from the opening credit sequence where the newspaper boy runs the car into the chain-link fence, there's nothing I could discern. You're not really watching this for the demo quality anyway.Sound:
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is average, considering this is a dialogue-driven comedy your five speakers plus one aren't going to get a workout. In fact the only things to really groove on in the film are the many songs that Smith used as the soundtrack. The song from Live during the big sequence sounded good, the Primus song in the opening credits also just as good, but the overall disc quality isn't special. Subwoofer activity is nil, rear speaker activity is almost as dormant, so no speaker panning to speak of, and dialogue is in the center channel for most of the film, but comes out a little unbalanced, so be prepared to crank this.Extras:
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the bonus material for Zack and Miri is that no combination of Smith, Mewes or longtime producer Scott Mosier appear for a commentary track. In fact, there's no track to speak of, which is a surprise. Maybe the BD-Live enabling on this disc will include an online chat with the aforementioned (along with Rogen and Banks) in the future...?
Getting into the rest of it, things start off with "Popcorn Porn" (1:14:48), in which Smith discussed the origins of this story and realizing it on film. The ideas for casting are discussed with Smith and Mosier, and the cast shares their first thoughts on getting the parts, along with getting the chance to work with Smith. The supporting actors are shown during auditions as they got the roles, and the Pittsburgh location is recalled with much fondness. Other production aspects like set design are talked about, but the real fun of this piece starts when Smith and Mosier talk about the test screenings and how they went, along with his dealing with the MPAA appeals process to fight for the R (as opposed to the NC-17 the film first received). Smith has done this before for two of his other films, and it's clear by how his arguments were as well-prepared and logical as they were. The joy and success of getting the R is talked about, along with the subsequent coverage of the film's premiere both at the Toronto Film Festival and to theaters. It's not as good a documentary as the one on, say Clerks II, but it's worth watching for the discussions on getting the R. No less than 43 deleted scenes are next (1:35:02), and yet most of them are alternate/extended takes, and hardly not all that funny. Some Rogen ad libs are in there, and some more of the prom sequences are flushed out (along with a relationship between Bubbles and Barry), so there's some valuable stuff there. But aside from a dig at Michael Bay, and Rogen discussing what a NILF and a BILF are, you can skip them. "Money Shots" is a series of webisodes (22 in total) that you can play individually or all in one fell swoop (47:44). Some of the webisodes do look at the production, but a lot of them are character goofs, and the "More You Know" PSA parodies are particularly hilarious. But some of this footage is reminiscent of the "Popcorn Porn" piece, except with more participation by the supporting actors, so take it for the goof it's supposed to be. "Gang Bang" is the clever name for the ad libs, bloopers and outtakes (13:00), but in the vein of the Clerks II stuff, it's more goofy than funny per se. "Seth vs. Justin: Battle for Improvisational Supremacy" (7:24) includes a comedic Deliverance of sorts between Rogen and Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard), who plays a boyfriend of Banks' high school crush. Watching them go back and forth is pretty funny and worth checking out. Wrapping up is the promotional appearance at the 2008 Comic Con (23:09), where it covers the production and other usual thoughts from the cast. As a personal note, I sat in this session and it's edited down quite a bit (I think Smith and gang went on for upwards of 90 minutes), but it's hilarious.Final Thoughts:
In seeing Zack and Miri Make A Porno again, I'm still torn on the film as a whole. It's funny and outrageous, but the outrageousness seems to cheapen the underlying human story. The performances are capable and funny at times, but compared to other Kevin Smith films, feels like a work in progress both in the material and by its creator. Technically, the film is unremarkable and the supplemental material also feels incomplete. When you look at Smith's films, it's not his best work, but it's one to grab if you're a View Askew enthusiast. On its own though, I'd do nothing more than rent it.