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‘Zack and Miri’ make a dull porno 

Kevin Smith fails again.

click to enlarge SETH ROGEN AND ANOTHER HOT GIRL WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE FALLS FOR HIM: That'd be Elizabeth Banks in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."
  • SETH ROGEN AND ANOTHER HOT GIRL WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE FALLS FOR HIM: That'd be Elizabeth Banks in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

Kevin Smith's every success, however marginal, perplexes me. Despite consuming popular culture indiscriminately and with apparent gusto, he knows little to nothing about making movies. All of his attempts to do so are visually unimaginative and conceptually suspect. His “offbeat” takes on religion, race and sexuality are consistently insulting and invariably superficial. I don't know if he's lazy or just dumb.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” Smith's shameless bid for mainstream appeal on par with “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” amounts to little more than a collection of offenses, like that game you play as a child where everything in the kitchen goes into one cup — except this time the movie-going public is the kid brother who has to drink it.

I call Smith lazy because even his jokes that register as relatively inoffensive don't quite work. The movie concerns an oafish lout (the real-life Shrek, Seth Rogen) and an impossible loser (the redemptively beautiful Elizabeth Banks). Somehow these two ended up living together, though there's absolutely no evidence to submit that they even like each other. At best, they exhibit a strained familiarity. On the freezing cold morning that begins the film, Zack abruptly steals Miri's handwarmer and shoves it down his pants, provoking no immediate reaction from his victim. Minutes later, Zack's balls catch on fire.

Now, if balls aflame strike you as funnier than they are unlikely, then perhaps Smith's brand of juvenalia will escape your criticism. But if you wonder to yourself how exothermic oxidation could cause a fire to begin with, then things only go sharply downhill from there. With the exception of a few brief forays into scatology, Smith focuses his dull wit on stickier issues — and I'm not referring to bodily fluids.

Several times during the film, his jokes are simply racist. Other times, they're sexist. In any case, they tend to be offensive.

Much has been written about the puritanical heart of movies like “Knocked Up.” These pictures accomplish their narrow social commentary by portraying the discrete circumstances that jibe with their worldview. (E.g., carrying a baby to term is a hell of a lot easier when you're surrounded by supportive friends and family, plus bringing in six figures at a television network — not so much for the under-employed child of uneducated immigrants.) But if Judd Apatow is conservative at heart, then Smith is simply rotten. Perhaps it's not his job as a comedian to examine the moral complexities of the porn trade, but the least he can do is acknowledge a little ambiguity.

As it stands, his two sex industry entrepreneurs maintain astonishingly rigid standards of betrayal. And they argue these standards as a woman is anally penetrated astride a camera in the next room. In this childish universe, the difference between fucking and making love is that fucking is an ugly thing other people do — or what the person you say that you love does with someone else. Surely you don't want to live in that world, even for only two hours.

 

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