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When full-scale T&A supplants a storyline rather than complementing it, a fictional send-up about making a porno begins to adopt the tedium of watching an actual porno.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno 

Zack and Miri Make a Porno opens Friday throughout the Triangle

click to enlarge Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks keep their eyes on the prize in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. - PHOTO BY DARREN MICHAELS/ THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY
  • Photo by Darren Michaels/ The Weinstein Company
  • Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks keep their eyes on the prize in Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

In his latest satire, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, 38-year-old Kevin Smith, already the mores-pushing mind behind the Clerks films, sees American society's slowly expanding standards of decency as an invitation to further indulge his adolescent impulses.

Smith now adds frontal nudity and simulated sex to the usual panoply of "crude content, strong language and drug content" that accompany his films' predictable R ratings. Smith deserves a measure of commendation to the extent his in-your-face comedic brand is a continuing harangue against the prudish, highly subjective power the Motion Picture Association of America wields via its movie ratings system. (Only a successful appeals board hearing spared the film from an NC-17 rating.) When NBC, with the urging of the NFL, excised the words "make a porno" from a commercial for the film that ran during the network's Sunday Night Football telecast, Smith astutely noted that the NFL's demand for "family-friendly" ads includes those peddling erectile dysfunction medication.

But when full-scale T&A supplants a storyline rather than complementing it, a fictional send-up about making a porno begins to adopt the tedium of watching an actual porno. Zack (Seth Rogen) and his longtime friend and hopelessly single housemate, Miri (Elizabeth Banks), suffer the hardscrabble economic woes of their Pittsburgh hometown. Part-time coffee shop and shopping mall gigs can't keep the utilities on or the bills from piling high. Desperation and an offhanded joke combine to inspire the BFFs to cure their cash flow problem by making and marketing a porno.

During our real economic crisis, there was apt opportunity for Smith to interject social commentary into the guilty giggles and Zack and Miri's eventual romantic evolution. Instead, there is something creepy about the gleeful eagerness with which Zack and Miri embark on their illicit endeavor (presumably, neither has any immediate family within earshot, at least none we ever meet), and more so the almost perfunctory air of their casting call. A world of prospective participants beat a path to their door, including two played by (ex-)porn actresses Traci Lords and Katie Morgan, members of a hoi polloi ready to prostitute themselves at a moment's notice.

Zack and Miri isn't a movie about making a porno; it's a movie about making movies. Smith sees an extension of himself in Zack, whose slovenly existence springs to life only once he discovers his passion for filmmaking.

One person saves Zack and Miri Make a Porno: Elizabeth Banks. Wallowing for years in bit movie parts and irregular TV roles (and now as Laura Bush in W.), Banks makes the most of her first legitimate shot as a headliner. Her laugh is joyful, her tears seep sincerity, and her smile lights up the screen. Smith gets away with delving so deeply in toilet humor at the expense of fully developing Zack and Miri's budding attraction because it is inconceivable that any red-blooded man wouldn't fall head over heels for Banks. She is an oasis of enchantment within a desert of vulgarity, and she gives a movie full of sex its true sex appeal.

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