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Nov. 5 2008 12:00 AM

Zack and Miri raunchy, romantic comedy

Kevin Smith movies are like spicy food: Some people love them, and others can’t tolerate them. The writer and director’s latest, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is no different. The story follows platonic friends, Zack, played by the ubiquitous Seth Rogen, and Miri (short for Miriam), played by the engaging Elizabeth Banks, who are so broke that they resort to making an adult film to pay the bills. Their venture becomes something of a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie plot: “Hey, let’s put on the show right here in our backyard!” Except in this film, they choose the coffeehouse where Zack and his co-worker, Delaney (Craig Robinson, of “The Office”), work to make “Swallow My Cockuccino,” using the security camera to tape it.

During auditions they learn just how many losers think they can act, until the crew comes up with a wonderfully diverse Rated R and entertaining ensemble. Smith brings back regulars Jason Mewes, better known as Jay from the duo Jay and Silent Bob, who can deliver a “boner” in three seconds, and Jeff Anderson (“Clerks”), who can handle the video camera. But his brilliance is in using Traci Lords of early porno fame and Katie Morgan, a squeaky-voiced, current porn star, as leads.

One might think this premise is an excuse to have a lot of sex in the movie, and one would be right. But the sex is so functional and over-the-top that eroticism is completely void. The sex is secondary to the evolving love story between Zack and Miri. They know each other so well that they have never considered having a relationship, but it is that friendship and deep-seated love and respect for each other that make the transition seamless.

Filled with Smith’s typical potty-mouth language and scatological jokes, “Zack and Miri” is a very funny movie. Smith also has a great respect for women. The role of Miri is complex, funny and touching, and Elizabeth Banks delivers that and more. She is an actress to watch for.

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