Zack & Miri Make a Porno

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Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (MGM).

TORONTO -- There is a sweet, romantic side to Kevin Smith, and despite the title of his new film, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," you can sense how much he wants to yield to that side. Yet he simply can't resist wallowing in nonstop gutter talk and adolescent jokes about sex and bodily waste.

When your ears finally grow immune to the raunchy dialogue, the romantic comedy comes into clearer focus. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are enormously appealing as longtime roommates who have no idea they love each other. Yes, it's all hearts and flowers if you just remember to take those anal sex jokes in stride.

With that title and Rogen and ex-porn star Traci Lords and current porn star Katie Morgan to appeal to Smith's Peter Pan followers -- you know, guys who refuse to grow up -- the Weinstein Co. should enjoy a substantial commercial success when the film goes into release Oct. 31 through MGM.

Friends since the first grade, Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) share an apartment in Pittsburgh and a life of genteel poverty. When they discover they are totally broke, they seize on the idea of making a porn film to get out from under the debt. They enlist friends and hold casting sessions only to lose their studio on the first day of principal photography. Then Zack realizes they can shoot after hours in the coffee house where he works.

The whole comic build-up here is to where Zack and Miri, who have never been romantic, have sex together on camera. How will it affect their friendship? You only have one guess about this.

For a mainstream movie to enter such risky terrain, though, it's surprising how bland the film's two main characters are. True, both adults are stuck in a mode of permanent adolescence for no other reason than Smith seemingly can't write about characters that aren't. But neither seems like real person.

Yet despite shortcomings and implausibility linked to their roles as written, Rogen and Banks come off with surprising charm and grace. Rogen makes good use of his teddy bear build and personality, so you never take his rude dialogue seriously. He just lacks the ability to edit himself when he speaks. Banks' startling realization of her feelings for her roommate is genuinely touching; indeed, it's the heart of the movie.

So with two sugar-coated leads, it falls to Zack and Miri's supporting cast to provide the film's eccentricities. Lords plays a stripper named Bubbles, having acquired that name through a special talent involving bubble liquid and her private parts. Jason Mewes plays a sex maniac who thinks of little else. Craig Robinson has any number of funny moments as the film's clueless producer. Ricky Mabe puts a funny edge of desperation on his portrait of a gay porn star. And Morgan has a career as a comic actor if she ever gives up adult films.

Dave Klein's cinematography gives polish to the uneven comedy, while Smith's own editing keeps the pace lively.

The Weinstein Co./View Askew.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Traci Lords, Jason Mewes, Ricky Mabe, Craig Robinson, Katie Morgan, Jeff Anderson. Screenwriter-director-editor: Kevin Smith. Producer: Scott Mosier. Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Carla Gardini. Director of photography: Dave Klein. Production designer: Robert Holtzman. Costume designer: Salvador Perez. Sales: The Weinstein Co.


Rated R, 101 minutes.

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