Writing “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” the story of an average Jane and Joe who make an adult movie, director Kevin Smith reached deep into his imagination and came up with the title of the couple's proposed indie sex flick: “Star Whores,” a play on the George Lucas franchise.
Not “Cliff Banger”? Not “Indiana Moans”?
Any of the above would have gone over well on the playground. Only the one Smith chose already happens to be an established adult movie, with an entry on the Internet Movie Database, no less.
When your comedy can't come up with original puns, there's a problem. Smith could claim he's being realistic, but then he'd have to explain the rest of the movie, which follows Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), platonic roommates whose financial troubles inspire them to make an adult movie. They proceed to enlist a cast and crew from local burnouts and strippers, all of whom throw an impromptu celebration party after working on the film without pay. A kind of exuberant dimwittedness dominates the proceedings, interspersed awkwardly with gooey romance. All of it — minus the naughty bits — would fit in a Friday night sitcom.
Smith's energy mostly is spent coming up with gross-out humor and ways to comically display male genitalia. He gives as little thought to the actors as the hackneyed story, which stars a couple of the director's frequent players. We realize now “Zack and Miri” is a low point for everyone involved, but perhaps more damaging to its leads, beginning to gain renown with mainstream audiences. Rogen (“Knocked Up”) and Banks (“W.”) alternately seem out of control and lost reading their lines as if off cue cards for “Saturday Night Live.”
Incorporating current and former adult movie stars, “Zack and Miri” further blurs the line between mainstream and adult cinema, but is that really an accomplishment to brag about? It is one of the few in this movie, which doesn't have a single original idea to show for itself. It's one thing to make entertainment for 12-year-olds, or people with 12-year-olds' tastes (diarrhea on the face, anyone?). But at least try to create something better than that 12-year-old could — otherwise, let the kid make the movie.
That is starting to be a pesky issue for Smith, who follows “Clerks II” —essentially a colorized, watered-down remake of his career-defining first film — with a comedy that would have gone straight to video without his name attached. (R) 101 min. HIIII S