Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno Review

Despite the fervent cult following that Kevin Smith has acquired in his 15 years of movie-making, financial blockbuster success has seemed to truly elude him. But the possibility exists that with "Zack and Miri" he can attain a level that he has not seen before, if only on the goodwill of Seth Rogen fans. This is not to say that the movie is substandard; on the contrary, the movie is a very funny, interesting look at two life-long friends who enter into a venture that will change the dynamic of their relationship forever.

Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are two high school friends who live together in Philidelphia. Their problem is that they never seem to have enough money to pay their bills, yet they have no problem purchasing amenities for themselves on their credit cards. After running into a male porn star (Justin Long) at their 10-year high school reunion, and after having the electricity and water shut off in their apartment, the two decide on a plan to make and market a porno movie and distribute it to pay their bills.

The result is one of Kevin Smith's best films to date, but ultimately does not achieve true greatness. The jokes are funny and the cast is top notch (including a hilarious Craig Robinson from the "Office") but it doesn't really do anything new with the genre that hasn't been done before. Yet what it does do it does well. The core of the film is the central relationship between Zack and Miri and what this situation means for them and for their cohabitation.

For the most part, this relationship played out pretty naturally throughout the duration of the movie, but one moment in particular that was used as a turning point in the relationship seemed to have a character act in such a way that is counter to his or her goals. This moment was introduced strictly as a way to create conflict and unfortunately it really knocked the movie down a little for me, if only because at this point it entered into the standard romantic-comedy formula.

Secondly, Zack and Miri are essentially losers who have done nothing with their lives over the last 10 years. Clearly not idiots, they just choose to be lazy and make horrible financial choices. I've seen other references elsewhere about how this is happening because of the financial state of the country, but it seems clear to me that for the majority of their lives they've just made zero effort. This in turn makes it somewhat difficult to sympathise with their situation at the beginning but it's something that's easily gotten over by the end. Overall, petty complaints that are surrounded by an otherwise solid story.

And all of Smith's trademark gross-out jokes are here, including one that I never thought I would see in a movie like this, and probably one of the reasons the NC-17 rating was initially placed on the movie. I believe I can honestly say I've never seen more of a gross-out moment in a mainstream movie than I did in this one.

Fortunately though, it wasn't all disgusting dick-and-fart jokes and much of the humor stems from the characters and who they are with fewer jokes for jokes sake. The laughter is pretty consistant, although it wasn't constant. There were plenty of funny movies this year and the fact that this movie is even able to be on par with some of those other ones is a testament to its quality. The actors really sell their characters, including surprising turns from real-life porn star Katie Morgan who has a few scenes of actual acting that she pulls off rather well that help to propel the story forward.

On my personal list, I'd rank this movie slightly better than Clerks II and just below Chasing Amy in terms of my favorite Kevin Smith movies. These past few years he's really injected a lot more heart into his films, and I believe that it shows. Hopefully others will see it too this weekend so that he finally achieves a true financial success.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Sex Drive Review

No question about it, comedies have come back in full force this year. There have been so many excellent comedies that finding laughter and a solid story is ridiculously easy. That's not to say that there haven't been poor comedies lately. In fact, seeing "How To Lose Friends and Alienate People" shortly after viewing "Sex Drive" made me realize just how bad some comedies can be.

The premise of "Sex Drive" is a relatively simple one, yet the movie is done with such heart that it comes across as rather fresh. Ian (Josh Zuckerman) is a recent high school graduate who can't seem to get rid of his perceived virginity stigma. He's your stereotypical nice guy, always a friend, never anything more. He bends over backwards to help girls, and he gets stepped on. His best friend Lance (Clark Duke) wouldn't seem from his chubby, spectacled exterior to be a ladies man, yet somehow he pulls it off with relative ease. Despite Lance's efforts to help Ian out, Ian just cannot seem to follow through.

In the meantime, Ian has been chatting up "Ms_Tasty" (30 Rock's Katrina Bowden), an online companion to whom he has been presenting himself as a college football player and practicing being a jerk. So after she claims that she'll have sex with him if he drives from Chicago to Knoxville, TN, he packs up his bags and attempts to hit the road with Lance. As it always is in movies such as this, things don't go quite as planned.

What really works is that at the center of this movie, the story is overwhelmingly solid. Sure there are plenty of unbelievable moments, but the characters all react in ways that make sense and are internally consistent. At the same time, the wacky situations are tempered by corresponding sweetness that allows you to be pulled further into the story. The actors especially really work to drive it home, especially Ian's brother Rex, played by the hilarious James Marsden. Marsden hasn't really been in many comedies over the years, normally playing the brooding, serious guy who gets his girlfriend stolen from someone else. But here, he really uses everything that he's given and highlights the film anytime he is on screen. Others, such as Ian's best friend Felicia (Amanda Crew), really help to ground the movie by not allowing all the male stuff to get too out of hand.

The movie follows all the road movie touchstones, including a run-in with a rather knowledgable Amish man named Ezekiel (Seth Green) who helps them along their journey when they run into car trouble. Overall, there are a few elements of predictability that you can see coming from the get-go, which can be seen as a negative. But fortunately the humor quotient is so high that it renders these issues rather pointless.

What is certainly great to see though is story-based comedy that doesn't have gags for the sake of gags but the humor develops from the story. This is the type of teen comedy that will hopefully last for a while and not be the forgettable movie a lot of people are expecting it to be. And if nothing else, see it for the giant donut costume. I sometimes I wish I had one of those. (Okay, all the time.)