Zack and Miri Make a Porno; What Just Happened

 

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (R) - Three and a half stars

What Just Happened (R) - Two and a half stars

Two vastly different comedies this week.

First up: Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno is another one of those R-rated films that slams viewers with a tsunami of raunchy comedy tempered by the presence of sweet-natured people and a romance, a bromance or both. Judd Apatow and his cohorts have had great success with the genre of late, including The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but Kevin Smith was one of the first to mix rude, crude chatter and shocking visuals with relatable characters.

He made his initial splash in 1994 with Clerks, followed by Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Smith tried taking a more traditional approach with the comedy/romance Jersey Girl. That didn’t go very well, so he returned to form with Clerks II and now this. Some people will be offended by Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but anyone attending an R-rated movie with this title automatically forfeits their right to get prissy about it. 

The plot: Affable roommates Zack (Seth Rogan) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are broke. At a high school reunion on Thanksgiving Eve (go figure), they learn that the best looking guy in their class (Brandon Routh from Superman Returns) is now a gay porn star along with his boyfriend (Justin Long from those incessant Mac ads). When their utilities at home are shut off, Zack and Miri cook up their get-rich-quick homemade porn scheme and gather some friends to work for and/or in the production.  

Smith, who wrote and directed the film, has cooked up a crowd-pleaser. The laughs come fast and continue on a steady basis all the way to the faux commercial tacked onto the end of the movie. My reaction to R-rated comedies has been muted lately — I’ve seen too many of them for the shock-based jokes to surprise me — but Smith managed to keep me amused and engaged most of the time. He’s still stiff as a director, but the able cast smoothes over the clunky spots.

Seth Rogan has proven his mastery of this sort of comedy and Elizabeth Banks is every bit his match. Jason Mewes, the Jay from Jay and Silent Bob, is consistently funny, Justin Long is a hoot as the self-satisfied porn star and former real-life porn star Traci Lords pops up — or out, to be more exact. Meanwhile, Craig Robinson, warehouse manager Darryl from The Office and the reflective hit man from Pineapple Express, steals scenes with his dead-on comic timing and phrasing.

Our second film, Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened, gets less space because it’s less funny. Based on the book by Art Linson (who also wrote the screenplay), this is one of those Hollywood insider comedies that points out the foibles of those in the movie business.

Director Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Avalon, Wag the Dog) is a seasoned vet, the cast — Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, Sean Penn, John Turturro, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci and Bruce Willis — is amazing and everybody delivers solid performances (how nice to see De Niro acting again, instead of doing a De Niro impression). The story is interesting (De Niro deals with temperamental directors, ego-tripping stars prone to temper tantrums, etc.), but the film drags because it lacks an edge and because too many of the gags are poorly presented. Hollywood making fun of Hollywood is just a sneaky way to justify gazing at their own image in the mirror and most of What Just Happened plays like little more than a dreary, narcissistic, workplace dramedy. 

Don’t know about you, but I’m opting for the crude-but-sweet comedy over the sophisticated one. 

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