Friday, November 07, 2008

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

It's a bad sign when a film kicks off with a Primus song.

Over a title sequence showing the budegtarily challenged roommates of Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Smart) getting ready for work, "Winona's Big Brown Beaver" plays in the background. It's a stupid joke, foreshadowing the solution to Zack and Miri's financial problems by playing a song which in itself is already a stupid in-joke. (Anyone that grew up watching Alternative Nation knows the pain of seeing that damned video come on over-and-over).

But Kevin Smith's wit has always been on level with his juvenile handling of male/female relationships. In Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith approaches the love bug tension of his two leads by tilting back-and-forth between his signature bodily fluid-humor and tedious, cheeseball rom-com cliche. Zack and Miri is watchable, but, like ever other Kevin Smith film, totally and immediately forgettable.

Fourteen years deep, the argument could be made that Kevin Smith is our worst living director. Undoubtedly, the guy has an ear for left-field references and a pen for jazzy dialogue, but the connection of those skills to anything even resembling a visually stirring idea has yet to surface. The ugliness of Clerks was understandable, and the inept directing in Mallrats was forgivable for the breakout performance of Jason Lee. But from Chasing Amy on, it became clear that Clerks's poor imagery wasn't the product of a low-budget, but of a director that spent more time looking at comics than watching films.

Like 2008's other anti-filmic movies Sex and the City and Mamma Mia!, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is entertainment that disregards modern artistic advantages such as: "the camera" & trained technicians called "cinematographers". These movies could exist in audio format and still contain the same amount of value. Eh, perhaps that's a bit harsh, because Justin Long gives a performance that's brilliant in the way he plays off the other actors around him. The guy is simply underrated, comedically and dramatically. (I think he should've been nominated for his supporting role in Live Free Or Die Hard).

For a guy who'd seemingly disclosed - via previous films - his dearth in the area of female understanding and empathy, you'd think Kevin Smith would back away from trying to sell us on love anymore. Since that bombed with the sappy Jersey Girl, I guess the next best path he knew of was to have his surrogate schlub discover love while porking his childhood friend on bags of coffee beans in front of a ragtag film crew. Is this romance Smith style? Shirt-on sex huffing while a candy-ass Live song plays in the back. Lovely.

Think back to Smith's truest stabs at writing female characters. Liv Tyler in Jersey Girl was the bookish good-girl that played into the doting mommy-wife fantasy fanboys dream of so that they can keep up their selfish (and sloth-ish) lifestyles, while Rosario Dawson in Clerks II was the sex whore goddess that could throw out boy-culture references while going ass-to-mouth on you. It sells because there is a niche for it, but that niche is ignorant when it comes to movies.

Sigh... I don't know. The guy fell into this through the luck of the 90's and a generation born with the low-expectations of quality filmmaking. He's living fat and happy and I won't begrudge him that. I just wish he'd relegate himself to storyboarding from here on out. I'm sure he's great at that.

13 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

We are in agreement on Smith. Jim Emerson has written several times on Scanners that when people ask him for filmmaking advice he tells them to watch Kevin Smith films, then do the exact opposite of everything they see in those films.

I don't like Smith's work, don't find his dialogue witty and find him kind of smug. But all that aside we do disagree on this: The guy fell into this through the luck of the 90's and a generation born with the low-expectations of quality filmmaking. That generation was raised on movies of the seventies, a great period in filmmaking. I don't think a generation raised with The Godfather, Chinatown, & Taxi Driver had low expectations of quality filmmaking. Unless you're referring to people raised on movies of the eighties, but that generation would be the one making movies now, not in the nineties.

Fox said...

Oh, I meant the "audience", the people that appreciate Smith's movies, not the filmmakers themselves. People who were 16-22 when Clerks came out.

bill r. said...

In that John Pierson book, the title of which I'm not going to bother typing out, Smith asks Pierson who that German director it was, he felt, hip to say you liked. Pierson said it was Werner Herzog. I think that says it all.

But I have enjoyed, to a degree, Smith's films in the past. But only to a degree, and little goes a long way. His dialogue, which is all he has, begins to grate awfully fast. I honestly can't believe he's lasted this long.

Fox said...

His dialogue, which is all he has, begins to grate awfully fast.

Totally agree. I can get a buzz from his films for about 15 to 20 minutes, and then it's flatline____.

And, I mean, dude, let the Star Wars jokes go already Mr. Smith! WTF?!? Basically, what he does in Zak and Miri is to give all of the legendary Star Wars characters "porn names". Like, Princess Lay-her. Harhar... er... yeah [gunshot blast to my head!].

And yeah, it may sound snooty to ask that modern film directors have some sense of history or appreciation of past filmmakers (certainly there are some wiz kids that are great without that), but I think it's really starting to show now in some of the films we have.

Jess said...

Just FYI, it's Elizabeth Banks, not Smart.

Marilyn said...

The only Kevin Smith film I've seen is Clerks. It was funny and fresh to me. I was younger then. But I guess I aged out of his work. I read about other projects he was involved with and just didn't find that they interested me - nor were they made with me in mind. So, I really have no opinion on Smith, but I respect y'alls opinions. So no Smith for me.

Fox said...

Just FYI, it's Elizabeth Banks, not Smart.

Dangit! That's the second time I've done that to her! Thanks for reminding me Jess. :0)

Marilyn-

Since you respect my opinion, will you believe me that Diary of the Dead is NOT atrocious???

Soiled Sinema said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Soiled Sinema said...

I have always thought of Kevin Smith as a loser promoted by the Weinstein's to make being a loser seem hip and acceptable. True Kevin Smith fans are pretty easy to point out in public. Especially when you have the misfortune of talking to one. It is just a certain degree of loser quality and social impotence(not to mention fear of life) you have to radiate to be a true Smith fan.

Nice writeup.

Jason Bellamy said...

Put me in the anti-Smith camp, if for no other reason his introduction (and subsequent force-feeding) of Jason Mewes. I admit that I've fantasized about Mewes and Steve-O of "Jackass" fame fighting to the death.

That said, Smith put out a book a few years ago that was essentially his journal. I picked it up to skim one day at Borders, prepared to find new ways to loath him, and I was disappointed to find myself laughing out loud. Honestly, there was a moment I contemplated BUYING the book.

Which leads me to this: I suspect that when Smith pitches a film, it sounds like a winner. But in terms of turning that idea into something worth watching ... that's where he fails. Repeatedly.

Fox said...

It is just a certain degree of loser quality and social impotence(not to mention fear of life) you have to radiate to be a true Smith fan.

Soiled-

I think that is why Kevin Smith writes such terrible female characters. I mean, Joey Lauren-Adams in Chasing Amy is like the fanboy fantasy: lipstick lesbian turned straight but comic book nerd.

Jason-

Yes. And I think since he snuck through in the 90's and grabbed enough clout to be a financed director - b/c of the success of Clerks - that he will just continue on.

I do think he's quite decent in acting roles. I know only 31 people saw it, but he's good in Catch and Release.

Anonymous said...

Definitely needs to lose the Star Wars reference obsession. :(

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