Video Reviews
Zach and Miri Make a Porno/Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
by Kevin Smith/, Eric Darnell. Tom McGrath
The Weinstein Company/DreamWorks, Paramount (2008)
Zach and Miri Make a Porno/Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
5 / 10
First off, I'd like to remind you, dear reader, that there is a time and place for everything--meaning, for example, that even though I never liked Dave Matthews Band (mostly because of personal prejudice towards its fans, which is unfair), I could see really enjoying their radio-hit, "Crash", say, if civilization was burning up in fiery flames. I'm serious as cancer on that one.

That being said, I saw Zach and Miri Make a Porno just after driving back from New York City on a trip with a beau. We were in the mood for squeezing the last bit of cultural consumption out of us in a light, mindless movie, written with some intelligence--Kevin Smith could fit that bill. I saw and enjoyed Mallrats when I was 19 and hanging out in east Baltimore with some crust-punks and 40s, back in Annie's glory days, and Clerks was on point too (and oft quoted by reverent theater nerd dudes in my high school). I couldn't really mess with Chasing Amy, though--the melding of mundane suburban narratives and superhero styles worked to me for the former two movies, but Chasing Amy felt too much like a letter written to an ex-girlfriend of Smith's who didn't want to be owned/possessed in a relationship. It was too timid--not in its subject matter, but in its message. I'm sick as a bick of movies about conventional relationships--you see that all the time in real life. I want to see a movie where a busted-looking dude like Ron Jeremy (or any girl, really) gets laid a whole lot and communicates well and everyone's happy and no one gets "got", "snagged", "bagged" in the end, sort of like that Melvin Van Peebles' Story of A Three Day Pass (except that the protagonist in that movie was hot). Actually, now that I read that last sentence. . . it sort of looks like I wanna see a hippy porno. What a beautiful segue into Zach and Miri Make a Porno!

Smith's latest offering has all the trappings of his previous films: unusual premise, lots of swearing and jokes, Jason Mewes (on point and looking clean in this one), suburbs, support of dominant relationship ideologies. . . Zach and Miri Make a Porno begins by asking the viewer to believe a cute girl who sort of looks like a blow-up doll (Elizabeth Banks) and a dude who's got nice-guy appeal and likes to go down on girls (Seth Rogen) can live together without any sexual tension. The two are totally broke and unable to pay utilities (because she's buying expensive vibrators online? Who uses bill/rent money to buy expensive vibrators when they live with a perfectly nice, moderately attractive dude who likes to go down on girls? Not hating, just saying. . .) so they decide to make money by making a porn movie. Somehow they find a motley cast of cool people who all get along and don't seem to have too many hang-ups, and make porn where there is good communication and enjoyment, intimacy without possessiveness, and no real issues. . . until the titular Zach and Miri star in a pretty conventional sex scene together and have a gentle, sweet, loving experience--which is really no surprise, considering they've been friends for a long time, and must, by default of continued proximity, have at least a modicum of love for each other. However, when it comes time for Zach and Miri to film scenes with other actors, possessiveness and jealousy ensue on both parts, a Live song gets played, and there are dumb boring heated arguments with poor communication and listening skills. Thank you Kevin Smith for making a story I've heard a hundred times before after all. Same shit, different asshole!

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa falls into the same romantic narrative ditch, as well, while asking for a similar suspension of disbelief--which is really no big deal anyway for a kids movie made on a computer. You want four animals who are native to Africa living together as friends and potential lovers, despite the fact that one of them is a natural predator to at least two of the others? It's going down. The story follows said four animals (a zebra, a lion, a giraffe, and a hippopotamus) in their escapades that ensue in Africa after having crash-landed in a derelict plane flown by penguins who are extremely charismatic, loving, and amoral. There are lemurs involved, voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer, who steal the show with their sassing, and some monkeys who remind me of the Mael brothers from the band Sparks. Besides the lemurs, the penguins are a good selling point, because they make schemes and marry hood ornaments and employ monkeys to fix 20th century machinery, but the core of the plot--that the David Schwimmer giraffe loves (romantically? biologically?) the Jada Pinkett hippo--is boring and dumb and filled with the same romantic conventions of jealousy and poor communication as Zach and Miri Make a Porno. There is no real room for exploring the more novel ideas presented in the movie--such as the sense of comfort gained from the penguins' confidence in outsourced monkey labor, the concept of altruism as presented in the aforementioned primates' interest in repairing a plane, or even how a small, effeminate, and lovingly sociopathic lemur can gain the allegiance, trust, and confidence of lions who could ordinarily enjoy him as a tasty treat.

Alas, alack, I badly wanted both Zach and Miri Make a Porno and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa to be more than just reheating a bland dish I didn't even like in the first place. Such is life. You know what movie I just saw, though, that got me out of this romantic movie funk? Badlands.
Posted by: Ann Everton

Video Reviews (December 15th, 2008)