Heartwarming ‘Porno’ for Smith

Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks play a couple that attempts to solve its financial problems by making a porno in Kevin Smith’s latest film.

You wouldn’t think a film with a title as blunt as “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” would be this season’s mushiest movie, but there is an undeniable charm sprinkled throughout Kevin Smith’s latest post-Jersey flick, somewhere between the anal sex and bubbles blown from below the belt.
Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”) and Elizabeth Banks (“W.”) star as the titular friends driven to smutty creativity by their piling bills. Inspired by a disastrous turn at a high-school reunion, the platonic couple decides to invest their remaining cash into an adult feature, using friends as crew and hiring a local cast, all the while firmly ignoring the chemistry between them. Rogen continues his streak as the believable and loveable schlub that bags the girl eons beyond his league. Banks is wonderfully charming and cuddly as the fire-cracker best friend, despite not fitting in a cast that uses curse words like punctuation.
A funny, but incoherent, Craig Robinson (“Pineapple Express”) is Delaney, Rogen’s fellow employee at a Starbucks knock-off and the porno’s producer, who hires actresses Stacey (Kate Morgan) and Bubbles (Traci Lords) to star in the film. These ladies serve as parodies of their real-life porno-star counterparts, and both give surprisingly competent performances despite their resumes. Deacon (Jeff Anderson) is hired to shoot the film based on his previous experience (filming Zack’s high-school sporting events), with Brandon (Ricky Mabe) and Lestor (Jason Mewes) rounding out the cast as the two male leads. Both Brandon and Lestor parody the provisions of adult film acting with visible enjoyment and zest, but they amount to little more outside of the smut scenes.
Anderson’s Deacon comes away as the most underused actor of the film, giving an entertaining performance as the down-to-earth pal that everyone wants to have. But the true gems of this film are the wry, deep-voiced Brandon (Justin Long) and the insecure jock, Bobby (Brandon Routh), who come out as a gay couple with endearing charisma at the high school reunion.
The story is a spunk-filled re-telling of a classic idea: how sex affects previously platonic relationships. Not the strongest of prologues, but as in all of Smith’s work, the film’s draw is its dialogue. Thankfully, “Porno” doesn’t disappoint. Although it lacks the sharp wit from Smith’s earlier work like “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma,” the film’s banter still serves to immediately establish the characters and their personalities.
The film’s script maintains a sense of simultaneous immaturity and wisdom, leading the audience to eventually fall in love with everyone appearing on-screen. The line between Smith’s love of the scripted word and Rogen’s improv tendencies is practically invisible, and the film acts as a nice mesh of the two schools of delivery.
Some running gags, like Delaney’s bitchy wife, don’t have as much staying power as the production team thinks, but generally the plot moves on at a smooth and funny pace. The film ends up buried in sappy clichés towards the end of the two leads’ romantic angst, but thanks to a wonderful turn by cinematographer David Klein – who makes suburban Pittsburgh look idyllic – the dated fluff is given a new visual life.
There are a few nitpicks: Smith’s love of “Star Wars” leads to a funny, but useless pornographic parody of the saga, and his odd fascination with dance sequences has our cast thrown on stage at one point for a pointless montage. But the film cannot be denied its overall magnetism, especially given the possibilities of its subject matter. I doubt we are going to get another Smith film as biting and sarcastic as we have come to expect, but “Silent Bob” has found an entertaining second home as the re-imaginer of the mushy love stories you can take your drinking buddies or your girlfriend to.