I dig Kevin Smith. Always have. OK, fine, I didn't think Mallrats was all that funny and, sure, I'd agree with the perpetually self-deprecating director when he criticizes his own "visual style," but I'm no hater. The fact that Smith is just about my age, has a sense of humor that's oddly in touch with mine, and has a background that's eerily similar to my own means I'm always rooting for the guy to succeed. And I think his latest comedy is about to help him succeed big-time.

Although he's been peddling his own brand of potty-mouthed comedy since 1994, Smith seems more or less reinvigorated by the successes of a producer named Judd Apatow. Starting with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow has written, produced, and/or directed some of the most popular R-rated comedies of the last two decades. Kevin Smith has been doing sort of the same thing, only on a much smaller scale and with an approach best described as "fan friendly." (As in, Smith makes movies for his established fanbase.) But with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the New Jersey knucklehead has elevated his game in almost every conceivable fashion. (As in, people who've never even seen a Kevin Smith movie might actually buy a ticket to this one.)

The plot is a simple thing: Longtime (and strictly platonic) friends Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are at the end of their financial rope. They can't afford to pay the electric bill, they're about to be evicted, they have no legitimate prospects on the horizon, and they've just spent the evening at a terribly humiliating high school reunion. So, like most people in movies would do, they hatch a get-rich-quick scheme: Gather up a bunch of willing amateurs and make a dirty movie. Surely in today's smut-obsessed world a Star Wars-inspired porno flick would be a huge moneymaker.

And so off they go: Rogen and Banks, along with a very tight ensemble that delivers as many chuckles as do the two leads. Smith fans will enjoy the participation of regulars like Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, both of whom deliver some of their funniest stuff since the original Clerks. Craig Robinson steals five or six scenes with no problem, and Smith even wrings a few chuckles out of former porn-star Traci Lords! (Extended cameos by Justin Long and Brandon Routh are simply drop-dead funny, even if they go on a tiny bit longer than they need to.)

But of course the movie's not really about porno. At its heart, Zack and Miri is a full-bore romantic comedy -- albeit one sporting some of the raunchiest words you'll ever hear in a multiplex. When Smith sticks to the broader and more colorful "let's make a porno!" stuff, the flick zips by with quick wit, clever dialog, and a few outlandish pieces of shock humor. And when Smith flips the switch for the gooey stuff, it works better than it probably should (given the flick's premise), and that's due mainly to the warm and amusing chemistry between Banks and Rogen.

If the movie falters a few time near the finish line (with a third act that's a bit too conventional for a guy like Kevin Smith), it's a small gripe in the face of a flick that delivers lots of big, strong laughs. I guess even a profane romantic like Kevin Smith cannot defeat the essential basics of the rom-com formula, but he gives it a strong shot and delivers a sweet-yet-smutty concoction that, yep, would feel right at home in the Judd Apatow sub-section of the video store. I mean that as a compliment.
CATEGORIES Reviews, Cinematical