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Nov 6, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

As I'm sure all of you do, I try not to let the feelings of others influence the way that I feel about a film. I also attempt - though rarely succeed - to go into a film experience without prejudice. As an unpaid film reviewer, that's essentially an impossible task, since you're paying and you likely want to see something to be seeing it in the first place. Common sense, right?

Well, I had tempered my expectations for Zack and Miri heading in. Despite my desire to see it, I haven't been too hot on Kevin Smith's last few films, and I didn't think this would change that trend. Running parallel to that were the mostly lukewarm reviews, especially those that panned this for being obvious or dated or "been there, done that" (from the Phoenix New Times: "nothing about [it] feels terribly fresh, much less transgressive"; from Entertainment Weekly: "in this otherwise coarse movie's whole tired, simulated premise").

Huh?

Am I missing something? Perhaps this is looking at the criticism a bit too simplisticly, but can anyone tell me what the last amateur porn-inspired romantic comedy was? I'll grant that Smith is probably about as much of an overall original as I am an overall encyclopedia of films, but I'll give Smith some credit on the general concept of the film, as others should as well. Sure, give him an earful for continually relying on Star Wars for plot points, but at the same time, recognize that the days of Jay and Silent Bob are gone (or at least, not on display here), and in their place, we have a Jason Mewes that's clean, sober, and acting. Anyway, the bigger mistake made by Smith was latching onto The Judd Apatow Players, from stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks to supporting player Craig Robinson.

Of course, despite how pathetic it seems to cop from Apatow's book, it's hard to argue with the results. Smith takes his South Park-like model (crude exterior surrounding a cuddly center), keeps the funny, and improves his writing and directorial efforts. The camera moves. Music frames scenes perfectly. The in-jokes disappear and are replaced by excellent extended cameos by professional actors, and, as mentioned, even Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson (the only other Smith pal featured, and the only one I would have taken).

So maybe it's not the funniest movie ever, and maybe it's not Annie Hall (what romantic comedy these days is wildly original, though?), but to fault a director for playing to his strengths, all the while improving his craft, seems petty to me. Of course, maybe others were just setting their expectations too high, perhaps expecting to see something more controversial given the title. What, you thought it could get worse than a man fornicating with a donkey?

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"


18 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno"

PIPER said...

I don't know that I'm strong enough to put aside my current bias of Kevin Smith and go see this movie.

And as you pointed out, it seems as if Smith is stealing points from Apatow by casting some old favorites.

And although no one has made a movie from this premise, it doesn't feel fresh because people have actually done this and quite some time ago.

It's not taboo enough because it's dinner table conversation - which is contrary to what Kevin Smith was going for - which by the way is a rather lousy way to resurrect your career.

Dead Pan said...

I believe we posted our reviews at about the exact same time. I don't think that Smith was particularly trying to steal from Apatow at all. If anything Apatow uses Smiths model for filmmaking by making dirty films with sentimentality. Unlike you though, I totally resonated with Clerks II, despite the donkey show.

Moviezzz said...

"can anyone tell me what the last amateur porn-inspired romantic comedy was?"

Last year, Jeff Bridges, Lauren Graham, Ted Danson, Judy Greer, and many others starred in THE AMATEURS, a film with the exact same storyline as ZACK AND MIRI (a group of guys, in a small town, decide to make a porno to earn money). The only difference was THE AMATEURS was funny.

As for the music in ZACK, oy. The scene with Rogen and Banks filming their big scene may win the award for most gratuitous use of music this year.

PIPER said...

And boom goes the Moviezzz

The Fatalist said...

Just read the review and you make some good points that I think also pointed out in my review as well, like the Apatow actors. Anyways, hop on over to my blog sometime moviecoroner.blogspot.com

Fletch said...

Moviezzz, was The Amateurs a romantic comedy? I obviously haven't seen it, but it doesn't sound like it. Though I thank you for bringing it to our attention, I think the point still stands - this isn't something that's been done to death, as those reviews intimated.

Though it looks like you're no fan of Zack and Miri nonetheless. Gratuitous use of music? I'm not even sure what that means.

Dead Pan - yeah, I thought Clerks II was a pretty weak attempt at re-creating the magic of the first, mostly because the first one was funny and smart, while the second was referential and dumb. If there hadn't been a first, I might've liked it first, but I'm sick and tired of being let down (horribly) by unnecessary sequels.

Smith is stealing, Apatow is stealing. Hell, they're probably all stealing from someone. Speaking of "stealing" actors from the Apatow gang, who else would have bet cash money that Apatow was involved with this week's Role Models? I sure would have, and I would have lost.

Dead Pan said...

In regards to Moviezzz and the Jeff Bridges film...That film came out about 6 months after Smith announced he was writing Zach and Miri, so I doubt anything was stolen from that one.

Daniel Getahun said...

Hmm, have to come out and disagree here. I found this a chore to sit through, not because of a lack of comedy but because of a lack of a plot. I would give it points for being original, but then how do you go almost nowhere with it?

I don't know, I did like seeing a new Mewes but I also like the Apatow players (I think I read an interview where Smith actually ended up rejecting a few casting recommendations from Rogen because it was becoming TOO much of an Apatow cast), especially Craig Robinson (I literally laughed at every word out of his mouth).

I left kind of pissed at Smith when I walked out of the theater. Sure, my expectations were high, but it was still disappointing to not see him do anything more "mature" than what he was doing 15 years ago. I guess that's a lot to ask for out of a movie like this, though.

Jason Soto said...

I loved this movie. Course I like anything Seth Rogen has been in and I'm a big Kevin Smith fan, so the two coming together was like pure awesomeness in my book.

I didn't look at it as Smith stealing from Apatow or anything. I look at it has a director who wanted to work with an actor so he wrote a script with said actor in mind. Then he casted, what, one or two other people previously seen in Apatow films? Unless Traci Lords made an apperance in "Superbad" that I'm not aware of.

And I don't get how this movie isn't original, yet again what movie nowadays IS original? Movie's have been around for how long? Something is gonna feel like something no matter what, so everyone who says this isn't original quit your whining and just enjoy it for what it is.

And I love Clerks 2. Sorry.
-Jason

Doug said...

Could someone refresh my memory as to what Apatow movies Craig Robinson has been in? As far as I remember, he was a bit character in Knocked Up. IMDb seems to have the same memory, too but I suppose they could have missed others.

As far as stealing goes, I've read interviews, and blogs that creativity comes from borrowing an idea here or there from someone else. What makes it their own, is how they deliver it. Stealing makes it sound like he used someone else's script entirely.

Fletch said...

Daniel, at least we get agree on one thing: Robinson was awesome. I too laughed at just about everything he said. His delivery is off the charts.

Jason, you make a fair point - it's just that it seems like APatow has had an exclusivity deal w/ Rogen. All of Rogen's high profile and high visibility work to date has been in an Apatow production. Had Rogen been the only Apa-veteran, I think I (and others) wouldn't have given Smith a hard time at all, but when you throw in the others, it just seems familiar. Hell, even Justin Long seems like an Apatow vet, even though he's not.

Doug - IMDb also recalls that Robinson was amongst the lead players in Pineapple Express.

Moviezzz said...

"Moviezzz, was The Amateurs a romantic comedy? I obviously haven't seen it, but it doesn't sound like it."

It was closer to a Frank Capra film. If I remember, Bridges wanted Lauren Graham to star, since she had appeared in Playboy years before, but falls in love with her. Something like that.

"I think the point still stands - this isn't something that's been done to death, as those reviews intimated."

I don't know. There is another recent film, with Amy Smart, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S BARELY LEGAL, which is on Showtime or The Movie Channel pretty much every single night, that is also very similar. A group of high school guys make a porno to meet girls. And then there was THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

Not to mention all the Mickey Rooney "Hey let's put on a show" films.

It isn't all that original a premise. Not that Smith stole it, but he shouldn't be given credit for it being original.

"Gratuitous use of music? I'm not even sure what that means."

Gratuitous was the wrong word. When they actually shoot the big scene, the music is so obtrusive it is almost painful.

"In regards to Moviezzz and the Jeff Bridges film...That film came out about 6 months after Smith announced he was writing Zach and Miri, so I doubt anything was stolen from that one."

It was made in 2005 (and had a big making of story on most of the major entertainment shows like ET and ACCESS HOLLYWOOD due to the cast). The studio then had problems and it would up on the shelf until 2007. I was aware of the film years ago, but I don't know if Smith was.

"Could someone refresh my memory as to what Apatow movies Craig Robinson has been in?"

He was just in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS.

Doug said...

Ahh! Pineapple Express. Of course, I knew there was another one but the old noggin wasn’t cooperating. It would probably help to have seen it. Thanks for the reminder!

Actually – just to double check my sanity, I looked up Craig/Judd pairing again on IMDb and originally chose Judd as a director. That’s where I only got Knocked Up, but if I choose Judd the writer, then we actually get three films, adding Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story to the list.

Teff john said...

"I think the point still stands - this isn't something that's been done to death, as those reviews intimated."I don't know. There is another recent film, with Amy Smart, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S BARELY LEGAL, which is on Showtime or The Movie Channel pretty much every single night, that is also very similar. A group of high school guys make a porno to meet girls. And then there was THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.Jason, you make a fair point - it's just that it seems like APatow has had an exclusivity deal w/ Rogen. All of Rogen's high profile and high visibility work to date has been in an Apatow production. Had Rogen been the only Apa-veteran, I think I (and others) wouldn't have given Smith a hard time at all, but when you throw in the others, it just seems familiar. Hell, even Justin Long seems like an Apatow vet, even though he's not.
-------------------
teffjohn

Promoter

Dean Treadway said...

If you want to go back a ways, INSERTS from the 1970s is about amatuer porn makers in the 1930s. It had Richard Dreyfuss in it, and it's x-rated. Good movie.

Fletch already knows about what I think of Smith. But if anything could get me to watch a Smith movie again, it's Rogen. Ever since FREAKS AND GEEKS, I've been a fan of his. If you haven't seen that series, you haven't seen Rogen (and Apatow) at their best.

But nothing--I repeat--NOTHING could get me to lay out 12 bucks (the cost of a ticket in NYC) to see a Smith movie again. Wait. One thing could. If the guys at THE ONION (the best film critics around) said that it was good, I'd go see it. They gave it a B, saying it was "honestly enjoyable"but "clumsily unfunny at times." Not enough for 12 bucks. Maybe a 3 buck rental though. Look, no one wants to like Kevin Smith more than me. I hate being "out of the club." But his past ineptitude at filmmaking has made not even wanna look at this club's fucking awning, much less step inside.

Dean Treadway said...

I should also point out that making spoof porno movies is the kind of joke me and my guys (sometimes girl) friends talk about over beers. It's hardly the stuff of mindblowing originality. I don't require that much from everybody making movies, but if Smith is so self-proclaimedly smart, shouldn't I be expecting a lot?

Reel Whore said...

This was definitely not a Smith best but far from his worst. I enjoy Seth, he's funny but I'm ready for Rogen to stop playing Rogen in every film. It may not be possible, but I'd like to see him try.

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