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Zack and Miri Make a Porno

An odd combo of vulgar shock and comic romance skews this comedy into an awkward tryst.

reviewed by Mark Burns

Eww. Aww. Eh?

Zack (Seth Rogen: Pineapple Express) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks: W.) are platonic buddy losers sharing a walkup sty outside of Pittsburg. As their 10-year high school reunion approaches, the hovel has gone dark and dry, and the pair needs quick cash to climb out of debt and keep a roof over their heads. Worse, Miri has become an unwittingly infamous Internet celebrity. Cue kismet in the form of a gay porn actor. Enthralled by the pornster’s explicit conversation, Zack hatches a scheme to save his and Miri’s butts by producing and starring in a homemade porn video, together.

At first blush, this is what Be Kind, Rewind might have been if Michel Gondry were a perv. But there’s a strangely sentimental bent to the obscene here, as Zack and Miri discover (on camera) they are perhaps more to each other than just friends. It’s comic debauchery with a glint of tender romance.

And that’s exactly where this flick runs into trouble.

Zack and Miri wavers through strange territory. One moment it masks itself in explicit exposition and still more explicit adventures into the profane, including one horrendous gross-out gag. The next it retreats to more sensitive terrain, navigating a tender relationship between two friends spooked by the warm-and-fuzzies. It’s like the idiotic bluster of eighth grade boys combined with a coming-of-age romance, then displaced onto a couple of clueless 28-year-olds. The effect is strangeness.

That’s not to say the film’s without merit. Its audacious dialogue often does deliver solid punch lines. The extremes of sexual candor is bold yet amusing. And the characters’ varied attempts at homespun porn yield some crazy sight gags and shock laughter. At best, its vulgar comedy harkens to the 40 Year Old Virgin. And Rogen and Banks anchor the film well with the weirdly engaging dynamic of their relationship.

Ultimately, though, writer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks; Chasing Amy; Dogma) seems more intent on shock than story. The auteur needs a better filter to wrangle the naughtiness and keep it contextual amidst a stronger story. Instead, raunch overpowers as a forced gimmick that renders romantic storytelling weakly naïve.

Smith might have tried to take a page from John Waters and knit the film’s divergent selves together with charismatic eccentricity. Instead he slacks off when developing the supporting cast and offers no significant quirk to take the edge off.

In the end, an odd combo of vulgar shock and comic romance skews this comedy into an awkward tryst. Zack and Miri is the first filmic trip out of New Jersey for the generally successful Kevin Smith. Unfortunately, he does not travel well.

Fair comedy • R • 101 mins.


The weight of too many stories stretches everything out longer and longer and longer until we start looking at our watches ...

reviewed by Jonathan Parker

A serial killer is on the loose in the San Francisco Bay area, and the press, the police and one obsessed cartoonist scramble for years to put the mystery together in the engaging but over-extended thriller Zodiac. From director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), this film focuses more on the ins and outs of cracking the case than on either suspenseful action or the creepy serial-killer violence for which Fincher made his name.

Zodiac is based on a real case and the book by lead character Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). Graysmith is a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, who thanks to his interest in puzzles, becomes intrigued by the case of serial killer Zodiac. This mysterious murderer sends letters with coded messages to the city’s newspapers as he kills people. Covering the story is Chronicle crime beat reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), who helps push the case to the front of the media. The front of the media is exactly where lead police detective David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) does not want it to be. Zodiac kills not many more than a handful of victims, yet the case unfolds over years and years. Meanwhile, those who frustratingly try to solve the case find their personal and professional lives slipping away.

The film plays out in two parts. Indeed, it’s as if Fincher couldn’t decide which angle he wanted to take.

As a result, for most of the movie, the film follows all the various reporters and detectives trying to get their man, jumping from investigator to investigator. Then, just when we think the movie might be reaching some sort of climax, the film practically starts again, now focused exclusively on Graysmith and his obsession and own investigation that leads to his book.

The film works best as a sort of All the Presidents Men meets one of those gritty Sidney Lumet cop movies like Q & A or Prince of the City. We see the inner workings of the newsroom and of police detective work, and the acting is just interesting enough for us not to be able to take our eyes of the screen. Ultimately, the film’s desire to be too many things stretches everything out longer and longer and longer (two hours and 35 minutes worth), until we start looking at our watches wondering when the movie will wrap up — even when it’s apparent that they’re not even close to wrapping up the case.

Good drama/thriller • R • 155 mins.

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