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Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen Make a Pretty Great Movie

In the new comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno, we witness the interesting collision of two comedy worlds.

Kevin Smith has been making raunchy comedies since his black-and-white, made-for-no-money-whatsoever debut film Clerks.  Although his subsequent films (Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, and Clerks II) have varied somewhat in tone (as well as quality), Kevin Smith has established a distinctive (and, for those of us who love his work, tremendously enjoyable) style to his films.  He has an ensemble of actors who have appeared regularly (Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck, Jeff Anderson, and many other familiar faces), and there’s a distinct cadence to his wonderful dialogue, which can be counted on to be chock full of obscure pop culture references, vulgarity and frank discussions of all-things sexual.  

It might not be so apparent, but Kevin Smith’s dialogue-focused films, featuring a lot of young people having one gloriously off-color conversation after another, were once quite ground-breaking.  (I can’t think of any movie, before Clerks, that had anything remotely similar to the famous “how many dicks did you suck” conversation.)  But in recent years it has been the films coming out from the Judd Apatow troupe (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, etc.) that have been taking up all of the comedy limelight, and pushing the envelope forward.  (Clerks is raunchy, but to me at least, Superbad is WAY raunchier.  Go ahead and re-watch the first five minutes of that movie and tell me I’m wrong.)

While everyone (myself included) has been singing the praises of Judd Apatow and everyone else involved in this recent wave of highly successful comedies, I don’t think quite enough attention has been paid to just how influenced these films have been by Kevin Smith’s work.  And so, as one watches Zack and Miri Make a Porno unfold, there is a lot of enjoyment to be found from the comedy circle completing itself, as we find so many familiar faces from the Apatow movies now starring in Kevin Smith’s latest film.  

The two headliners are, of course, Seth Rogen (who appeared in both Apatow TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, had a supporting role in The 40 Year Old Virgin, starred in Knocked Up, and co-wrote and co-starred in Superbad), and Elizabeth Banks (the “junk in the trunk” girl from The 40 Year Old Virgin who has been all over the place this year, most recently in W. and Role Models).  While several Smith regulars also appear in Zack and Miri, such as Jason Mewes (finally playing a character other than Jay) and Jeff Anderson (Randall from Clerks and Clerks II), Rogen and Banks also brought along several other actors from the Apatow circle.  There’s Gerry Bednob (Steve Carell’s shockingly profane Indian co-worker Mooj in The 40 Year Old Virgin) and, most notably, the phenomenal Craig Robinson (who had one scene in Knocked Up as the bouncer who wouldn’t let Leslie Mann and Katherine Heigl into his nightclub, and who has been knocking ’em dead for several years now as the put-upon Darryl in The Office).

As one would hope from this “Worlds Collide” scenario, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a) very raunchy, and b) very funny.  Kevin Smith’s last two films, Jersey Girl and Clerks II, both got a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes at times.  Fortunately, while there is some solid emotion to the character arc of the two main characters (something really not present in most of Smith’s early works, with the exception of Chasing Amy), Smith does a good job at keeping the tone of his film steady.  There are a few more serious moments, but they feel earned, and another big laugh is always just around the corner.

This isn’t groundbreaking the way Kevin Smith’s early films, and Judd Apatow’s recent films, have been.  Judging from the slow box office, this film doesn’t look like it’s making much of an impact on our pop-culture landscape.  But don’t let that keep you away!  It is thoroughly enjoyable film, and one that I can’t wait to see again when the DVD is released.

And if you’re looking to see something that I am quite certain you’ve never seen in a movie before, there is one scene fairly late in the movie that definitely fits the bill.  Oh, you’ll know it when you see it!

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