Deep Coat: Zack and Miri?s pornographic themes are bundled in knowing humor.

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Young moviegoers who have graduated to films of the foul-mouthed and sex-obsessed variety in the past few years probably believe two things. One, that Judd Apatow, babydaddy to Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, is the genius pioneer of the smut-with-a-heart-of-gold genre. And two, that Kevin Smith sucks. It’d be a valid conclusion: While Apatow, either as producer, director, or writer, was reinvigorating comedy and making stars out of shlubs, Smith fell embarrassingly far from his 1994 Clerks high, at worst getting in touch with his unfunny ovarian side in 2004’s Jersey Girl and then grossly overcompensating—with the emphasis on gross—in 2006’s improved but still disappointing Clerks II.

But then Smith created Zack and Miri Make a Porno. And it is good.

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Zack and Miri, as it’s been aka’d in ads after widespread panic over the word “porno,” does initially seem like a Apatow ripoff, with its emphasis on lightning-quick, filthy dialogue, un-P.C. humor, and general horniness redeemed by film’s end with a gooey love connection. But remember, Smith nailed that trick in 1997’s Chasing Amy. Which makes his latest just a partial Apatow ripoff. Really, so many members of Apatow’s go-to ensemble are here you forget who’s behind the camera: Craig Robinson and Gerry Bednob have supporting roles while Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are Zack and Miri, two BFFs who are sharing an apartment 10 years after their high-school graduation. They’re not too excited about their upcoming reunion, considering they not only lack careers, they can’t even keep the lights on, thanks mostly to Zack’s adolescent spending habits (i.e., hockey skates and a “pocket pussy” are clearly more important things to throw paychecks at than bills).

The reunion, free booze notwithstanding, seems like a total bust when Miri’s intended conquest, the former football champ, turns out to be a gay porn star. (He’s played by Brandon Routh—perhaps Smith’s way of correcting what he claimed, jokingly or not, was a fault in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which is that the Man of Steel wasn’t “gay enough.”) But the revelation, coupled with Miri’s new YouTube fame as “Granny Panties”—courtesy of two punks who happened to catch her changing in the back room of the coffee shop where Zack works—gives Zack an idea when they’re brainstorming ways to make some quick cash. “If it’s so easy, why doesn’t everyone do it?” Miri protests. “Because other people have options,” Zack says. “And dignity.”

Thus Star Whores is born, allowing Smith yet another way to riff on two of his favorite subjects, Star Wars and cock. The search for a director and actors to fill roles such as Sky Baller, Hung Solo, and R2 Teabag finally brings in Smith regulars like Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, making for a stunted-nerd’s paradise. Movie references follow, from Glengarry Glen Ross to Kurosawa to Blood Diamond, to Zack’s appreciation of the excellent production values of a set that’s nonetheless “waiting to have balls on it,” and Miri’s declaration that she’s “going to Meryl Streep the fuck out of this.” Coming from an actress who’s likely in an adjoining theater playing Laura Bush, Banks’ egoless dedication to bawdiness in another boys’-club movie is especially entertaining.

There are too many delirious levels of humor here to dissect it all, but highlights besides Smith’s wittily offensive dialogue are the porn scenes themselves, which accurately feature terrible acting, tortured metaphors, bow-chicka-bow-wow music, and lines such as, “I’m going to fuck you with my pecker!” Of course, Zack and Miri’s just-friends relationship threatens to turn into more when it’s time for their scripted coupling, a stretch that’s more awkward and awful than any of the cast’s previous shots and leads to a bit of predictable but forgivable cheesiness. “This is the worst porno I’ve ever seen,” one crew member remarks during their scene. Yeah, but it’s Smith’s best film in years.