Saturday, November 1, 2008

Zack and Miri Can't Get It Up

Who doesn't love a good dick joke? Or a witty ass riff? Or even a shameless, not to mention brainless, diss of a starring an actress you don't like, going a little something like, "Not only is she a cocksucker, but her movie sucked cock"? Ha, ha. Get it?

Look, comedies-centered-around-the-sophomoric-art-of-sex-crazed humor and I have always gotten along famously. Any time those American Pie movies are on the tube, I'll glady sit down and watch, and still laugh like the first time I saw them. And Superbad remains one of the funniest films I've ever seen, and that whole bit where Seth flashes back to the days of his obsession with "dick drawings" is the pinnacle of this prude-scaring execution. When done with some intelligence and hard-to-detect-but-there tact, this style of giggles is more than welcome.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno, however, bends this comedy genre over, plugs it from behind with a man-just-sprung-from-jail's force, frequently attempting to whisper "heartfelt" sweet-nothings into it's ear. It's an overdose of dick-and-ass jokes, that hits its mark a few times but ultimately left me bored.

[nice view]

Not for lack of appreciated effort by several involved, though. Elizabeth Banks, as cute and just-one-of-the-guys naturally funny, gives Miri a genuine arch, to where you truly believe that a knockout like her would actually fall head-over-heels with her lifelong best pal, the overweight and crass Zack (Seth Rogen's character). And in his brief, one-very-funny-scene cameo, Justin Long ("the Mac dude," from Dodgeball, dates Drew Barrymore and Kirsten Dunst interchangeably) fully commits to a hoarse-voiced gay male porno actor, and delivers one of the film's best lines: "...[my movie] Shut Your Mouth or I'm Gonna Fuck It." Then, there's the always-great Craig Robinson (The Office, Pineapple Express, the bouncer in Knocked Up's best scene), here to play Seth's co-worker at a Starbucks-knockoff coffee shop who tags onto their makeshift porno as "producer," merely to look at "titties" that belong to his bitch of a wife. Robinson's droll, matter-of-fact delivery never misses, and you wish he had more scenes in this one, especially.

[Robinson....a really cool dude, too; interviewed him for a profile story, and after the story went to print, on stands, he actually sent me a text message telling me that "I rocked the shit out of that story for me," and thanking me, which virtually NEVER happens in this biz. Pretty cool of him, eh?]

The pieces were all in line, and I was ready to triumphantly shout "Jenga!" by the time the closing credits ran. But as Zack and Miri Make A Porno progressed, I realized just how tired the rampant "X-rated" jokes were becoming. Literally every joke here stems from either a "dick in ass" or "cock and balls" source. For the first 3o minutes or so, I was there with it, and chuckling along. But then, I caught myself predicting every punchline, and shuffling my feet waiting for this shit to end, so I could go grab some delish Mongolian BBQ at the Newport Center Mall's food court (Great Khan's = great, indeed).

The telegraphed-joke disease specifically inflicted Seth Rogen, who in every other movie he's made I've loved as a comic actor. And coming off Pineapple Express, an unexpectedly-strange laugher that'll most likely make my year-end best-of list, I've been pro-Rogen, tendfold. So many people that I know and respect have declared "I'm tired of Seth Rogen, all his movies are the same," and I'd actively find ways to defend the dude. But in Zack and Miri, his whole "underachieving, schlubby guy who gets the hottie" routine felt played out, "been there, done that, Mr. Rogen." I counted a good eight or nine times where I said his punchline before he himself did, and that's never good. And other than a seriously-scruffy beard here, Zack could've been Ben from Knocked Up, or Cal from 40-Year Old Virgin, and I would've known the difference.

I'm not off the Rogen train just yet, because even here I didn't dislike him; I just felt like I know him too well now. Hopefully, his next one, Observe & Report, will reinvigorate. It's being billed as a comedy version of Taxi Driver, with Rogen playing a disgruntled mall security cop who loses his sanity and gets a bit trigger-happy, which sounds as far away from "fat stoner hooks up out of his league" as a flick can get. Fingers crossed.

[Banks, Justin long, and Rogen...the movie's funniest sequence, IMO]

Perhaps, though, the blame of Zack's underwhelming character shouldn't be put on Rogen's shoulders, but on those of writer/director Kevin Smith. Smith has a real cult following, people who adore the shit out of his guy-centric comedies (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Mallrats, etc). Can't say that I've ever been a huge fan of Smith, honestly; his movies make me laugh a bit, sure, but never to the point of wanting to ever watch them again. Granted, his Dogma did work really well for me, mainly because of the fantastical, God-versus-fallen-angels plotline, which was a nice curveball, creatively. But typically, I've found his humor a bit too juvenile for me, and predictable.

I was hoping Zack and Miri would change that, considering the heavy "Team Judd Apatow" element involved (Rogen, Robinson, even Banks to a smaller degree), but no dice. But unfortunately, Smith's usual "appeasing the inner 9th grader in all of us" chops poured in here. Take the whole "we need to make a catchy porno movie name that plays off a popular movie" conceit...okay, now: Dawn of the Dick...Cocunts (Cocoon)...Edward Penishands....Star Whores. Original, huh? Seriously, any second grader could've written those jokes. And that's my problem here; nothing in this movie struck me as creative, or witty, or even laugh-out-loud funny. Obvious, instead of blindsiding.

A couple of other artistic choices had me groaning, as well. First, a so-lame-I-almost-couldn't-believe-it-was-happening dance montage where the characters do supposedly-funny dance moves as DMX's "Party Up" plays. What is this, 2001? The fuck? And second, the moment where Zack and Miri realize their hidden feelings for one another. It comes as they're filming a sex scene together for the porno-within-the-movie, and it's actually a pretty well-acted and tender moment. But then, just as you're ready to stand up and cheer, Smith undercuts it with some Bon Jovi-sounding song, as if to beat over our heads that its a romantically joyous bit of intercourse going down in front of our eyes. Rather than leaving the soundtrack turned Off and letting their love-making do all of the work.

Just frustrating. A movie with a good amount of laughs that pale in number-comparison to the array of saw-that-shit-coming jokes. And a love story within that doesn't quite feel earned enough. I'd been asking for a disappointing and/or bad movie to come my way these days, after seeing a long series of winners. Zack and Miri Make A Porno isn't bad, but it's certainly a letdown. Had high hopes, and only a few were met.

Womp womp.

Rogen's 2008 ouput goes something like this....Pineapple Express = the greatness; Zack and Miri Make A Porno = should've been, but isn't the goodness. Pineapple is so subversive and bizarre, like very few comedies I'd seen prior. Sort of like a bigger-budgeted, bigger-star-attached spin on the tone of Napoleon Dynamite.

Though, the bit in Zack and Miri where we see just how fucking disgusting the aftermath of giving a girl anal while she's constipated can really be had me LOLing...yeah, I know. But trust me, it's even worse when played out here.

Oh, I should give Smith a thumbs-up for setting this flick in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, the locale used in the original Dawn of the Dead, also known as my favorite horror film ever. Those "Monroeville Zombies" hockey jerseys worn are a nice touch, too.


I'd never wear one of those, but I'd definitely buy one and keep in the collection. The least I could do.

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