‘Zack and Miri’ funny at times but falls short

Posted Nov. 06, 2008, at 4:42 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:02 a.m.

In theaters

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, written and directed by Kevin Smith, 101 minutes, rated R.

True to form, the new Kevin Smith movie, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” turns out to be every bit as raunchy as its title promises, so much so that no advertisements ran before the movie most likely because no advertisers wanted to be associated with it.

For that reason alone, can we please have one of these movies every week? Probably not, and it’s easy to see why for many reasons that can’t be mentioned in a family newspaper. Suffice to say that Smith wanted to top the dirtiest comedy ever made for a mainstream audience, and he succeeded. His mother must be proud.

Or not. While the movie isn’t a complete bust — it’s sometimes just as funny as you hope — it eventually becomes so garbled by a forced, lovey-dovey subplot, its go-for-broke edge is zapped and you want to gag on the sugary sap that hits near the end.

From Smith’s script, the movie stars Seth Rogen as Zack and Elizabeth Banks as Miri, two lifelong best friends who live together and have fallen on such hard times that they can’t pay their bills.

What’s this Pittsburgh duo to do? Since getting another job apparently is out of the question — as is the idea of applying for local assistance — they decide to make a porno that will star a handful of friends and strangers, as well as themselves. As Zack and Miri see it, making the film could lead to quick, easy money, which is just what they need since their electricity has been shut off, along with their heat and water.

The complication to this is so telegraphed, only the numbest boob in the room won’t see it coming: What’s to become of these longtime friends if they do have sex, even if it is onscreen with a crowd of people watching? Will emotions get in the way? Will hearts soar? Or when they come away from the haze of sexual confusion, will they be angry, wounded and bruised?

If it’s the latter, at least Zack and Miri have a colorful vocabulary to fall back on to describe their feelings. Screenwriter Smith goes out of his way to lace his movie with a string of expletives.

While there’s no doubt that achieving new cultural lows can be funny — Smith proves this in a handful of raw, unbridled scenes — there’s also no question that the effect eventually becomes muddied when Smith loses focus by forcing a lame romantic subplot.

Here’s the truth Smith must face — he might have been doing all of this before Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”), who now is the reigning king of endearing raunch, but he’s not as good as Apatow at bridging the gap between the gross-out and the human portions of a film. Smith actually is rather clumsy at it. His characters are more believable and likable being bottom-feeding caricatures than they are in being three-dimensional people in search of love.

Which leads us to a larger question — what does that say about Smith?

Grade: C+

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

The week’s best new release on DVD and Blu-ray disc is Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” a rare sequel that doesn’t feel as if it came only to cash in. Back in the red suit is Ron Perlman as Hellboy, a crimson beast with blunted horns, a right arm the size of a semitrailer, and a big, swinging tail meant to underscore Hellboy’s virility, which apparently is substantial. At 58, Perlman is perfect for the role. It isn’t every actor who has the necessary wit and charm that can punch through the thickest layers of latex and makeup, but that’s the case here.

Backed by the original cast, Hellboy also is joined by one complicated villain (Luke Goss), who wants to fight to save the planet from the humans actively destroying it. For this reason, his character is given unexpected depth — how can audiences fully despise somebody with such noble intentions? It’s difficult, and it’s just one twist that makes this movie so satisfying.

Also available and recommended on DVD is the seventh season of “J.A.G,” which boasts that it’s the first show in history to be endorsed by United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. Make of that what you will, but it’s a good show, with David James Elliott charismatically taking down those committing their share of crimes in the military.

Michael Douglas and Karl Malden work through their own brand of detective work in the far grittier and solid 1970s television show “The Streets of San Francisco,” the second season and second volume of which is just out. Also worth considering is the Blu-ray release of “Chuck: The Complete First Season,” with Zachary Levi starring in a swift, quirky espionage series just tipsy enough to be unique.

For family entertainment, the seventh season of “7th Heaven” has come down to Earth, not that this season of the show is recommended. This hollow, soapy confection follows the highs and lows (mostly the lows) of the Camden clan, whose canned lives are explored with lots of life lessons, plenty of tears, a good dose of struggle — all of it strained through cheese cloth.

Fairing better are “Futurama: Bender’s Game” (DVD, Blu-ray), which successfully skewers the current energy crisis by taking it into outer space, and Paramount’s surprisingly good “Shrek the Halls” (DVD), which finds Shrek, Princess Fiona, Donkey and Puss In Boots mixing it up over the holidays.

They do so with disastrous verve, which is just fine, and also in a production that wasn’t tossed off, which is the real surprise. The animation is on par with the theatrical releases, the story is lean and focused, all of the original voice talent returns, and the writing is sharp, bringing back most of the necessary, naughty wit that was missing from the disappointing “Shrek the Third.”

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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