By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
Zack and Miri Make a Porno could be subtitled When Harry Met Sally and Talked Smutty. Kevin Smith's comedy is that raunchy, yet conventionally romantic at its core.
This is the movie Smith has grown toward at a snail's pace, from 1994's gleefully lowbrow Clerks to his sentimental Jersey Girl a decade later. There has always been a perverse romanticism to Smith's bodily function jokes, and irreverence in his lovelorn characters.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno marks the first time those wildly disparate ideas become a cohesive, hilarious whole.
This is the part of the review where I must remind some readers not to pay attention to only a review's letter grade. This is a shockingly funny movie, with hard emphasis on the shocks. If you're easily offended by gratuitous profanity, sexuality and scatology, stay away from Zack and Miri Make a Porno (as if the title isn't fair enough warning). If you're cool with it, be my guest.
Seth Rogen — no stranger to juvenile gutterspeak — plays Zack, an uber-slacker platonically rooming with his lifelong friend, Miri (Elizabeth Banks). They work at a generic coffee shop, never making enough money. Zack and Miri visit their high school reunion, where a former jock (neo-Superman Brandon Routh) and his gay-porn partner (Justin Long) give them the idea to make and sell an adult movie that will pay the bills.
They recruit a cast, including porn legend Traci Lords and Jason "Jay" Mewes as a stoner with an unusual talent. Craig Robinson (The Office) steals each of his scenes as an unhappily married co-worker with enough money and hopping hormones to be the movie's producer. Their discussions about possible titles based on popular movies — the choice is the comparably tame "Star Whores" — are side-splitters.
In the midst of destroyed sets and improvised sex is a surprisingly effective love story. Like Harry and Sally, Zack and Miri have never been intimate, although he's willing and she's comfortable seducing anyone else. Yes, they will have sex, but it'll be more like making love, damaging their friendship until they realize sex isn't everything.
Community standards prevent much description of the comical scenarios Smith concocts. Zack and Miri Make a Porno never lives up (or down) to the carnal promise of its title but close enough that Smith had to practically beg to avoid an NC-17 rating. Its rambunctious raunch will incite laughter — or a parade of uptight viewers to the exits.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.