Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

THE STANDARD line in many reviews of Kevin Smith’s latest attempt at making a Kevin Smith film are that this is “the dirtiest date movie you could ever see” and a “romantic comedy with a heart of gold and a big hard on too” – or words to that effect. You get, and I’m sure (judging by the script) Smith would accept this as a pun, the point.

Kevin Smith has not been funny for a lot longer than he was ever funny and it is close to miraculous that he has sustained not only a career but in fact built a cottage industry around his exploits.

Let’s try to look at his films vaguely critically: Clerks was largely a fluke of timing, the film has not lasted well, but it arrived at a time when the lo-fi indie film-making boom was, erm, booming. Just before, in fact. And so the promise of a semi-sharp script, and some inventive ways to hide – and stretch – a meager budget saw Smith on his way to creating the myth he now manages to support.

Mallrats was a pretty funny film – in many ways it’s his best because the sentimental streak that he later developed is notably absent. It’s deserving of its cult and it perhaps says a lot about Smith that he’s baffled by this film’s cult success.

Chasing Amy is a ghastly film that shows ten minutes of early promise. Dogma, like most of Smith’s films, thought it was cleverer than it was, but this time it almost succeeded. It didn’t though and is left with a sum not equal to the parts.

Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back was where Smith took his own myth, which he by now believed in more than any of his fans, and ran with it – it’s impressive that this series of frat house-styled in-jokes was allowed the budget and distribution that it received. Still, some funny bits. I’m no film snob. I will admit that I laughed at some of Jay And Silent Bob. Some.

And then there was Jersey Girl – and I do not have the time and cannot summon the effort to discuss that shark-jump here.

And Clerks II was one Clerks too many. That simple. And it really was simple.

So, now Zack and Miri Make A Porno is essentially bits of Jersey Girl and bits of Chasing Amy wedged together with Smith’s own genuine affection for porn (read his diary, it’s on every second page, right after he announces his bowel movements. Seriously).

But Zack And Miri is also Kevin Smith combining his ideas with Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin, even realising, finally, that by substituting Seth Rogen in the roles that he can write but cannot play himself he has an effective movie-double now; as well as his standard foil (and I’m sure he’d, ah, lace that with a pot reference) Jason Meyes.

Also from 40 Year Old Virgin is the now ubiquitous Elizabeth Banks. She has to have Hollywood’s ultimate curse in that she is now everywhere and yet is still a nobody.

So, to the plot, which – again, spot the pun – fails to stand up:

Rogen (the Zack) and Banks (the Miri, aka Miriam) are school-mates turned flat-mates; best pals who have never ever thought of hooking up romantically. They attend a school reunion where Zack meets a gay porn actor and gets a hand-job from an old school friend because he is bored and she is angry that her husband is showing her no attention. Yeah, that’s what happens at school reunions.

Zack and Miri cannot pay the rent so they do the only logical thing; they decide to make a porno. They agree that they will act in it themselves and they will even hump each other for effect. But they agree it is just acting.

You have guessed what will happen before this point – and before reading to this point – because Smith telegraphs every non-twist and non-turn in this rather dull screenplay. Figuring a few blue jokes will keep his fans happy.

Banks and Rogen have a decent level of chemistry, Mewes is slightly different than in other Smith films (though still largely a boofhead) and Smith can’t conceal how pleased he is at having his actors come up with the porn parody of George Lucas’s uber-franchise, in this case Star Whores. It is amusing for a second – and there are a few funny lines. By this point we are nearly half-way through the film.

I should point out that if you ran the films side by side, Be Kind Rewind would also be looking vaguely likeable and utterly ridiculous at this stage. But then, where Michel Gondry’s film lifts its game and (ooh, another Smith-level pun) comes in to its own, Zack And Miri carries on down the spiral, with shitty jokes (literary) and gratuitous tit shots to remind the audience that this film apparently enjoyed earning its R18 sticker. But it also adds in the romantic-comedy storyline of Zack and Miri actually developing a thing for each other.

From there it’s an abomination of clichés, Smith presumably thinking he’s transcending them because this is the guy that created lines like “try not to suck anyone’s dick on your way to the car park”. But he falls right in to his own trap, delivering smug and annoying crap that is cheesy but never knowing enough to be deemed clever. It’s just lazy and obvious and unmoving and unsubtle and all the things that Kevin Smith at his worst is.

The saddest part about this film? If he made a sequel I’d probably see it. And that I guess is where Smith must get the majority of his laughs these days... knowing he’s suckered a bunch of us in to giving a shit about what he’s doing. Even – and especially – when it is shit.

Simon Sweetman’s ‘notes’ continue as a regular fixture on The Lumière Reader throughout 2009.