With his embarrassing, shot-in-Pittsburgh romantic comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno, former Sundance whiz kid Kevin Smith officially becomes culturally irrelevant. Like John Waters, whose shock-at-all-costs modus operandi became depressingly passé once gross-out comedy went mainstream with the Farrelly Brothers (you just know Waters is still kicking himself for not thinking of the Farrellys' sperm hair gel joke first), Smith's potty-mouthed, pop-culture-referencing schtick now seems positively antiquarian in the Judd Apatow era.
Maybe Smith should consider doing a Broadway musical version of Clerks (a la Waters' Hairspray smash) for his next act. Anything would be an improvement over the leftover table scraps that Smith serves up in Zack and Miri. Even the movie's faux-naughty premise feels out of touch with present-day reality. Roommates and BFFs Zack (Apatow mascot Seth Rogen, sporting enough unbecoming facial hair to make him resemble Sasquatch) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks in an unintentionally amusing segue from her recent stint as Laura Bush in W.) are so cash-strapped they can't afford to pay their rent or utility bills. Smith gives away the "solution" to the financial crunch in the film's title, but the idea that anyone could make a killing with an amateur porn video in the XTube era seems preposterous. Why pay for something you can get for free 24/7 on the internet? And choosing to make Zack and Miri's porno a hardcore send-up of Star Wars (titled, duh, Star Whores) only dates the entire concept further. You'd swear that Smith had been living in his parents' basement for the past 30 years.
Of course, none of that would matter if Zack and Miri Make a Porno was even remotely funny. But Smith seems to have lost his comic timing, edge and Rabbelasian wit trying to keep up with Apatow-ian smut farces like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. There's something vaguely pathetic - and seriously off-putting - about the movie's random succession of off-color gags (like Zack's ball-warmer invention) and one-liners like "I never met a man who made me cum like a vibrator." I suspect that Smith himself must have realized that the porn satire was old hat and probably wouldn't fly, since he wanly interjects a warm-and-squishy love story into the dildo and projectile shit jokes.
The romantic stuff - Zack and Miri come to the realization that, golly gee, they complete each other - might have carried more weight if the characters hadn't been portrayed in such grossly unflattering, coarsely caricatured terms until that bottom-of-the-ninth-inning descent into Nora Ephron territory. It's tough to care whether these working-class schlubs get their happily-ever-after if we've never particularly warmed to them in the first place. Even when Zack and Miri finally pledge their undying love, they remain cardboard punch lines to a dirty joke that was never particularly funny in the first place.
Rogen has never been a more unappealing screen presence; Banks' usual sunny effervescence is conspicuously, tragically absent; and even Smith rep players like Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson fare badly. Except for a funny Pittsburgh Steelers gag, the only marginally amusing person here is Craig Robinson (Darryl on The Office) as Zack's hen-pecked casting director. And while nobody said comedy has to be pretty (visual niceties have never been Smith's strong suit anyway), did Zack and Miri Make a Porno really need to be this butt-ugly? The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce should sue for defamation of character.