[Screen It]


(2008) (Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks) (R)

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Comedy: To make ends meet, two financially desperate, lifelong and platonic friends decide to make a porno film, but must contend with the ramifications of having sex for the first time.
Zack (SETH ROGEN) and Miri (ELIZABETH BANKS) are longtime friends and roommates who share an apartment in Detroit, but now don't have enough money to pay the rent or utilities. After a secretly taped video of Miri in her "granny panties" becomes a hit on the Internet, and Zack and Miri attend their high school reunion where they learn that former quarterback star Bobby Long (BRANDON ROUTH) is now a gay porn actor along with his boyfriend, Brandon (JUSTIN LONG), the lifelong friends come up with an unlikely idea.

And that's to make a homemade porn film to earn money. With Zack's coffee shop coworker, Delaney (CRAIG ROBINSON), serving as their producer, and former high school AV cameraman, Deacon (JEFF ANDERSON), as their cinematographer, Zack will work as the director and Miri will be the star, although the plans are for her only to have sex with Zack on camera. For the rest, they hold auditions and hire the likes of Lester (JASON MEWES), Bubbles (TRACI LORDS), Stacey (KATIE MORGAN) and Barry (RICKY MABE) to fill out the cast.

From that point on, Zack and Miri must contend with the aftereffects of them sleeping together for the first time, all as they try to guide their porno film through to completion.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Ask most anyone who's ever written a novel, play, screenplay, short story or such and they'll likely tell you that one of the most agonizing parts is coming up with an appropriate title. After all, not only is that part supposed to be catchy and help sales, but it's also usually assumed it's going to be representative or at least indicative of what the plot is about.

Of course, that's not always the case, and for some movies it's next to impossible to know what sort of flick one's getting themselves into. Not so for "Star Whores," a title that really only implies a few options. Prostitution or at least promiscuity, sexual or not, is a given, while the "star" part could mean the best and those that achieve fame, famous actresses that behave that way, or something to do with outer space.

It's the "Star Wars" sound-alike that generates the identifying name, and that parody film appears in this week's release of "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," a title that gets straight to the point and leaves little doubt what it's about. And with director Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy," etc.) behind it, there's also no doubt that it will be vulgar, crude, lewd, filled with wall-to-wall profanity and -- maybe, just maybe -- funny to some degree.

But it's that title, or at least the last part of it, that's drawing the most attention. And that's because many newspapers, TV stations and outdoor advertising refuse to include the word porno (thus meaning the title has been truncated down to just "Zack and Miri"), while the poster has also been rejected by some due to fears that the stick figures featured in it will draw the attention of kids back to that word.

Why so much focus on the title by yours truly, you might ask. Well, that's because there really isn't much to the film. While some may herald it as a return to old form by Smith (who also wrote the screenplay), that's its very problem. So people cuss enough to make sailors blush and talk crudely about sex and such. Been there, heard that before, not only in Smith's film, but countless others, so that brings nothing new to the table.

By their very nature, porn films are so amateurish and goofy that they're already parodies (figuratively as well as literally, considering that they spoof famous movies and/or people). Thus, making a comedy about them is fairly redundant (in fact, "Boogie Nights" did a better job of exposing the ludicrousness of them trying to be taken seriously, and did so as a drama).

Thus, all we're left with is a variation of "When Harry Met Sally," specifically in terms of men, women, whether they can just be friends, and what sex does to that sort of initially platonic relationship. Unfortunately, Smith offers nothing beyond the predictable story arc and clearly is no Nora Ephron when it comes to examining that or writing smart lines.

Then again, who can do that when seemingly every other word must be a profanity? After all, nothing says funny like people firing off "f" bombs and other obscenities like bullets in some war flick. Don't get me wrong -- I'll laugh if the material is funny, and there are a few moments here that elicited a chuckle or two, but the humor mostly feels recycled at best.

As does the "geek/loser gets the girl" sort of material that the Judd Apatow moviemaking machine has been kicking out for the past several years. Not since the heyday of Woody Allen have we seen such an influx of such unlikely "heartthrobs" (which perhaps explains the appeal to guys who want to think they could get lucky like schlubs featured in such pics).

Speaking of Apatow, this one features Seth Rogen as such a lead who gets the chance of landing a beauty such as Elizabeth Banks. To be fair, and notwithstanding the unlikely "beauty and the beast" pairing, the two performers have a decent comedic chemistry together, and toss their lines back and forth in an easy fashion.

Craig Robinson gets a few amusing moments as the film's producer and thin-skinned black man character, real-life porn stars Traci Lords and Katie Morgan don't stretch their acting wings far by appearing as, you guessed, performers in the movie within the movie, and Jason Mewes finally gets to step out of his "Jay and Silent Bob" character as their costar (and looks a bit like a strung out Hayden Christiansen in the process).

Smith's diehard fan base will probably eat this up, but I found it a step in two wrong directions -- not only backwards after seemingly starting to mature a bit as a filmmaker, but also in trying to emulate the Apatow formula (where a heart and/or some charm develops within all of the crudity) that's obviously been far more successful than anything Smith has released. Occasionally amusing, but nothing more than recycled material from his and other films, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed October 6, 2008 / Posted October 31, 2008

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