Some films just do what they say on the tin. In terms of plot, Zack & Miri Make a Porno should fall into that category. It's about two old friends and house-mates Zack (Rogen) and Miriam (Banks) who, when they fall on hard times, decide that their only option is the potentially lucrative world of amateur porn.
Accordingly, Zack & Miri do, indeed, make a porno. With the presence of writer / director Kevin Smith, you can probably guess that the process is going to be: a) outrageous; b) crude; and c) hilarious. What the title and, to some extent, Smith's presence don't indicate though is just how sweet, tender and incredibly heart-warming the whole thing is going to be. On the one hand, yes, it features mainstream cinema's most graphic anal sex gag ever. On the other, it's utterly charming. Go figure.
With their power and water shut off, a long winter ahead and no sign of sufficient funds to improve their lives, Zack and Miri are officially into hard times, dire straits and in need of desperate measures and other financial hardship cliches. Inspiration is at hand though from Miri's old high school crush Bobby (Routh). At a class reunion (on the downside, they're going to feel like under-achievers but on the plus side, it's free beer), Miri decides to make her move on Bobby. However, as the upfront Zack discovers, Bobby is there with his boyfriend Brandon (Long) and the two are making a pretty penny in gay porn. With the evidence of a changing room mishap and some unfortunate knickers proving the power of the internet, Zack persuades Miri that their cashflow worries are at an end... if they can just get their ends away on camera.
Thus with the assistance of Zack's coffee shop colleague Delaney (Robinson), casting begins for Star Whores, an intergalactic, rather more graphic take, on George Lucas's creation featuring dildos for light sabres and characters such as Princess Lay-Her. Unfortunately, a mishap with the set leads to emergency measures and so Zack and Miri end up with an emergency rewrite and having to take their cast (Jason 'Jay' Mewes, Mabe and real life porn stars Morgan and Lords) to film late night in the coffee shop: cue lots of jokes about cream. Somewhat inevitably, the need for money and their long term history masks the simple truth that Zack and Miri are in love — and in denial — however nothing forces your hand like potentially seeing your secret love going at it on camera.
It's this switch where Smith's soppy side comes through. As anyone who's read Smith's ramblings (on the View Askew website or in his excellent book My Boring Ass Life) will know, the Clerks director may be a crude, dick-obsessed fat guy but he's a crude, dick-obsessed fat guy with a big heart, and it shows. Get past the sodomy / money shot gags and there's a deeply romantic comedy lurking beneath. That's not to say you should take your mum to see it. You really, really shouldn't. Unless she's VERY open-minded and you have the sort of relationship with her that makes your friends talk about you behind your back. Yeah. They do. You sicken them, you freak...
The leads are charming, with Banks more than holding her own against Rogen. Morgan is a delight (a porn star with comic timing? that must be, er, useful in the day job), Mewes continues to improve film on film and Robinson gets all the best lines. Most of all though, it's proof that Smith, as well being a hugely entertaining speaker and self-deprecating diarist, is a genuinely great filmmaker. Highly quotable, outrageously rude, painfully funny and virtually guaranteed to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, Zack & Miri is Smith's most accomplished work to date and this reviewer's favourite comedy of 2008.
EXTRAS ** Popcorn Porn, a featurette about how the film came about; Cast Interviews with Seth & Elizabeth, in which Rogen and Banks sit at a table and chat about making the film and, er, porn in general; and Naughty Extras, which is all aboutn how they made the fake semen. No commentary, no deleted scenes, no gag reel – very disappointing.