October 31, 2008

‘Porno’ Arouses Too Few Laughs

By Claudia Puig

Zack and Miri Make a Porno longs to be a smutty film with a heart of gold. Instead, it's a funny concept whose execution does not live up to its potential.

Roommates and longtime best friends Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are broke and struggling. They can't make the rent, and the electricity has been shut off. At their high school reunion, Zack has an unexpected conversation with Brandon (Justin Long), the porn-star boyfriend of their former classmate Bobby (Brandon Routh). Their exchange (one of the movie's humorous highlights) leads to a crazy idea that just might work. Bankrolled by a pal, Zack and Miri decide to make an adult film, hoping for a big payoff.

Director Kevin Smith seems to be trying to take his signature slacker-chatty style in the Judd Apatow direction. But he doesn't have the finesse to pull it off as skillfully as Apatow and company can. Despite the attention-getting title, the movie does not seem particularly titillating -- just tired and mired in gross-out humor.

The gags feel familiar. A full-frontal scene by Lester (Jason Mewes, a Kevin Smith regular) is reminiscent of Jason Segel's scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Miri's "granny panties" extended joke simply updates a Bridget Jones gag for a more tech-savvy audience.

One scatological scene is sure to induce audible groans. Gross-out humor in movies is getting more vulgar and off-putting, ostensibly to stand out from all the similar jokes that went before. Do filmmakers really think that propels the art form forward? Or do they assume it's that tough to amuse audiences jaded and inured by increasingly risque gags?

Rogen and Banks make a good comic pair. But the notion that they fall in love while making a clumsy porn film -- or realize they've been in love for a while -- seems oddly sentimental and conventional in what is meant to be an offbeat, raunchy comedy. Smith has always had a penchant for scenes featuring raw discussion of sex (Chasing Amy), and Porno takes that predilection even further. But the love story turns out to be as generic as Nights in Rodanthe. Though Rogen and Banks have some chemistry, Rogen is playing a very familiar character, bordering on overexposure. Is he the only go-to guy for schlumpy twentysomething romantic leads?

Zack and Miri leaves us wondering whether it's supposed to be mostly a touching love story or a crude comic romp. Certainly there's room for sweetness amid bawdy humor, but the fusion should be somewhat original, or at least believable. In trying to meld the two, it doesn't succeed at either. It may be too sickly-sweet for audiences drawn to the idea of a ribald comedy and too explicit and foul-mouthed for those who prefer their love stories to be romantic. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>