Thursday, November 6, 2008


"Zack and Miri Make a Porno" (**** out of ****) is "Clerks" director Kevin Smith's best blue-collar, romantic comedy since "Chasing Amy.” The eponymous protagonists have been best friends since the first grade who make a porno to pay off their mounting rent and utility bills during chilly Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh. Zack and Miri live together in the same apartment, but they sleep in separate rooms and in separate beds. In other words, they do not have sex. They share the rent and the utilities, alternating who pays what each month. Unfortunately, these two slackers barely make ends meet because they blow their bucks on sex toys. The heroine relies on a vibrator, she says, because no man has ever made her cum the way that a vibrator does, while the hero maxs out his credit card so that he can buy a flesh light, a portable pocket pussy that resembles a flashlight. Clearly, if you’re a prude about sex and profanity, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” will probably offend you with its alphabet soup of A-words, C-words, F-words, and s-words that pervade the dialogue.

The first funny gag in “Zack and Miri” involves the use of those palm-sized chemical packets that provide warmth when the user kneads them with their hands. Miri (Elizabeth Banks of "W.") breaks out one as she awaits Zack (Seth Rogen of “Knocked Up”) to join her as she drives them to work. Zack snatches the chemical packet from Miri and unceremoniously stuffs it into his crotch. Later, as they drive to work, Miri smells something toasty and poor Zack realizes that his genitals are on fire and struggles to remove the packet. Miri has to pull off the road, and Zack has to shed his coat to remove the packet from his crotch. When he claims that the packet singed his hairy testicles, Miri laughs out loud at the absurdity of it all.

The action finally cranks up when our protagonists decide to attend their high school reunion. Miri is dressing for the occasion in the back room at a coffee shop called "Bean'N Gone” where Zack works as a counter attendant. Two slackers see Miri changing out of her clothing and freak at the granny panties that Miri has on. No sooner have they video-taped Miri’s derrière than Zack walks in front of their cell phone camera and moon them. Anyway, Miri wants to hook up with former high school football player and all-around jock, Bobby Long (Brandon Routh of “Superman Returns”), while Zack cruises the party. Zack runs into Brandon (Justin Long of “Live Free or Die Hard”) and learns that Brandon is attending the festivities with his homosexual lover. Brandon explains to Zack that he is a gay male porno star and that he is rolling in dough. Predictably, Miri reacts with shock when she discovers Bobby’s sexual orientation.

Our heroine and hero leave the reunion and go back to their apartment. Since Zack forgot to pay the light bill because he had to buy a pair of ice hockey skates, our heroine and hero find themselves plunged into darkness. Miri observes over a brew at a nearby bar that their predicament is what forces some people to prostitute themselves or appear in a porno. Since neither Zack nor Miri have any living relatives, they are not ashamed to flaunt their sex organs. Our protagonists decide to make a porno movie in the hopes that the over 800 people in their high school graduating class will buy a copy for twenty dollars a DVD.

Zack approaches his fellow employee, Delaney (Craig Robinson), about serving as the producer. Delaney scraps his dream of buying a big-screen TV so that he can finance Zack's porno. However, the racially sensitive Delaney, who lives with an abrasive wife with sagging breasts, throws himself into the production when he realizes that he gets to ogle breasts during actress auditions. The first male that they hire is none other than Kevin Smith's co-hort from his "Jay and Silent Bob" comedies. Zack and Miri select Lester (Jason Mewes) strictly on the basis that he can attain an erection almost instantly. Later, Lester saunters around in the nude with his beans and franks hanging out for all to see. The audience that I sat with the second time that I saw “Zack and Miri” nearly choked on their collective breath at the sight of his genitals.

Notorious real-life former teen porn star Traci Lords of "Blade" plays a character named "Bubbles" who farts into a bubble-blowing loop and makes bubbles. Yes, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" has front frontal nudity but the sexual exploits are clearly simulated. Nude bar hostess Stacy (Katie Morgan of "Hot Cherry Pies 3") displays her ample breasts in one scene with Lester as our heroes videotape after hours in their workplace. They lose their first studio because a huckster named Jenkins (make-up artist Tom Savini of “Night of the Living Dead”) took a month’s rent from them but refused to tell them that the building that houses their studio is scheduled to be destroyed. Our resourceful protagonists decide to relocate the setting of their porno to the coffee shop after everyone has gone for the evening.

If profane, randy, politically-incorrect language about sex offends you, then you should skip "Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” Seth Rogan is perfectly cast as a wise-acre coffee shop server who has a deep crush on Miri and their romantic involvement in each other takes on a different light when they shoot their own porno. Each is so self-conscious about themselves and absorbed in each other that they forget to remove their clothing. Miri realizes that she has found true love at long last. Smith shoots this scene with an overhead camera as Miri sprawls out on coffee bean sacks. It almost looks like a homage to a similarly shot scene in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time in the West" when Claudia Cardinale laid back on a huge bed with a gauzy canopy.

The usual complications that occur when two people become intimate create problems that drive them apart and forces the shutdown of the movie. Despite the formulaic plot, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is a sweet, sometimes sour, sentimental romantic plot about the wacky way that love works. The 'Dutch rudder' scene between Seth Rogen and Jason Mewes at the end is hilarious.


Since he produced 50 episodes of “Everwood,” executive producer Mickey Liddell has gotten some other ideas about the trials that single fathers face raising their teenage daughters. Liddell transplants the “Everwood” premise to a horror setting in his directorial debut with “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” (** out of ****), a lukewarm supernatural chiller about the demonic possession of a paranoid 17-year old prep school student and her single dad who worries about her safety. Clearly, Liddell and his scenarists missed the spectacular “Omen” sequel “Damien: Omen II” (1978) about a 13-yeard old private school student who took advantage of his powers as the anti-Christ to wreak anarchy. Imagine what the Roman Polanski classic “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) would have been like if the infant had been forced to wait until her 18th birthday to emerge as evil incarnate, and you’ve got a good idea what is in store for you with this predictable PG-13 thriller.

Additionally, “The Haunting” does itself no favors with its negative frontal assault on mainstream evangelical Christianity. As one of the villains, a deranged female Christian teen tries to drown our troubled heroine so Satan cannot claim her soul. “The Haunting” may rake in millions at the box office east, west, and north, but you can already hear Tupelo-based Donald Wildman leveling broadsides against it here in the South. Aside from some intense scares that may startle some, this low-budget, derivative thriller lacks the element of surprise. “The Haunting” qualifies as a revisionist horror movie, too. In traditional horror pictures, Good conquers Evil. In revisionist horror epics, however, Evil triumphs over Good. “American Zombie” scenarist Rebecca Sonnenshine rewrote freshman writer John Travis’ script, but neither Mickey Liddell nor she can do much with this hokum. Banal dialogue, contrived predicaments, incoherent writing, and hopeless stereotypes eviscerate the horror content.

“The Haunting” opens with a pre-credit scene whose characters that have nothing to do with the rest of the film, but serve to put the plot into context. The year is 1997, and Laura (Jessica Lowndes) has a rendezvous with her boyfriend Michael (Randy Wayne) in the woods at an abandoned house. Laura’s father (Jamie McShane) appears unexpectedly and hauls his daughter away from Michael and into his truck. Careening off down the road with her, the father pulls into the path of a laden farm vehicle that T-bones them in a violent crash. The grieving father grabs a broken piece of mirror and stabs his daughter to death to save her from ‘the darkness.’ “The Haunting” then shifts to the present day and the problems that Molly Hartley (Jodie Foster look-alike Haley Bennett of “Music & Lyrics”) faces as she shows up at an elitist prep school Huntington Academy.

Molly’s life has been anything but a picnic. Molly’s mom Jane (Marin Hinkle of “Quarantine”) tried to kill her by stabbing her in the chest. Since the incident occurred, Jane Hartley has been locked away in an asylum near the town that Molly’s dad Robert (Jake Webber of “U-571”) has decided to locate near so they can visit her. Molly is neither crazy about her new school nor its atrocious uniform apparel. Strange things happen when Molly enters an English class where they are analyzing British poet John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” At one point, blood drips from her nose when she opens the Bible. Clearly, old Nick isn't happy. Moreover, Molly has begun to hear voices. Worse, she hallucinates that her mother is trying to finish what she started. Desperate to save herself, Molly converts to Christianity at the insistence of Alexis who tries to drown her in the baptistery.

“The Haunting” relies on a gallery of stereotypes. Molly’s father forever frets about her welfare. Huntington Academy hunk Joseph Young (Chase Crawford of “The Covenant”) has babes smacking each other around over him. Joseph is the son of the wealthiest man in town. Joseph’s jealous, blond, ex-girlfriend Suzie (AnnaLynne McCord of “Transporter 2”) refuses to give him up without fighting Molly. Their catfight concludes too quickly, but Suzie’s comeuppance is amusing. You know dark-haired Leah (Shannon Marie Woodward of “The Comebacks”) is the bad girl because she smokes marihuana in the girl’s lavatory, pilfers cafeteria lunch items, and wears torn fishnet hose. Born-again scholarship babe Alexis (Shanna Collins of “War of the Worlds”) alienates everybody with her complete lack of tact.

Altogether, “The Haunting” qualifies as a chick-flick friendly horror opus about a teenager-in-turmoil. Hardcore horror fanatics will feel cheated by the scarcity of blood & gore. The menacing moments consist of birds flying out of nowhere and snarling dogs suddenly lunging up against chain-link fences. Mail plunging through a drop slot in the door at Molly’s house sounds like an avalanche. Indeed, Liddell suggests the violence more often than shows it. You won’t see any knives penetrating flesh. Several characters die, but Liddell artfully conceals the gruesome details. Typically, mainstream PG-13 movies for teens cannot show them imbibing alcoholic beverages without receiving an R-rating that cuts into the film's box office earnings. Molly’s mother takes a header off a balcony, somersaulting between the floors before she lands face down on the bottom with virtually no damange done to her physique. Clocking in at 86 marginal minutes, “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” will leave you wanting for something more stimulating like “Rosemary’s Baby.”