Kevin Smith has made for himself a career of dirty comedy. Sometimes it works, as in “Clerks.” Sometimes it falls on its face, as in “Clerks 2.” This time, with “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” Smith has taken the “Clerks” franchise formula and applied to it the sweetness of a Judd Apatow production. The result is something less than success.

The gist of the plot is this: Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks) have been platonic friends since high school and live together in near-poverty. Zack works at a coffee shop called “Bean-N-Gone,” which is Starbucksier than Starbucks itself. Miri works at, um, the mall. What she does there is anyone’s guess, since the film seems to only establish that fact to make sure you know that she does indeed bring home some bacon. Needless to say, neither of them earns a lot of money and both of them spend their money in the typical American way: on stuff they don’t need, like sex toys. The eventual result: their water and power are turned off.

It so happens that right around this time, Zack and Miri attend their 10-year high school reunion, where Miri unsuccessfully tries to seduce former classmate Bobby Long (Brandon Routh — yes, Superman), who is gay and dates a man named Brandon St. Randy (played by Justin Long, in the first time I’ve ever seen him as a character actor, to hilarious effect), a gay porn actor. It is from them that Zack and Miri learn that porn is lucrative, and also that they are the unwitting stars of a very popular YouTube video that features Miri in her “granny panties.”

Naturally, this leads to Zack and Miri deciding to enter dozens of sweepstakes make a porno so they can pay their bills. They settle on “Star Whores,” recruiting Zack’s coworker Delaney (Craig Robinson, who deserves a shot at a starring role) to finance the film and Zack’s hockey buddy Deacon (Jeff Anderson, of “Clerks” fame, playing what seems like a ten-years-later version of Randal) to be the cameraman. They cast a man with the charming name of Lester the Molester (Jason Mewes, the Jay of Jay and Silent Bob) as the primary “actor” in the film, and recruit a local stripper named Stacey (Katie Morgan, an actual porn acress), along with a woman named only Bubbles (Traci Lords, a former porn actress) and a guy named Barry (Ricky Mabe), whose presence in the film seems completely unnecessary.

This ragtag bunch actually does a ridiculously good job (considering the budget) with the set and costumes of “Star Whores,” only to have the whole thing come crashing down — literally. The whole building is promptly demolished, and the “Star Whores” dream is destroyed, leading the crew to embark on a new project, “Swallow My Cockuccino,” which they film after hours at the Bean-N-Gone.

The casting and filming lead, of course, to plenty of opportunities for sex jokes (and worse) that are, by and large, very funny. The jokes rarely miss their mark, but considering what the movie is, they’re too few and far between.

Naturally, there is a budding romance going on, and this is what keeps the movie too busy to make enough good dirty jokes. The big scene in the porno involves Zack and Miri sleeping with each other for the very first time. Needless to say, instead of “fucking,” if you will, they “make love” and fall in love, to absolutely no one’s surprise — seemingly not even their own.

The problem with all this is that Rogen and Banks have zero chemistry as lovers. None. There is really nothing there. As friends, they work; as lovers, it’s even more unbelievable than Rogen and Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up.” The whole manner in which they fall in love feels obvious, cliche and forced. The characters themselves are underdeveloped; there’s really nothing particularly new or interesting about either Zack or Miri. We’ve seen these characters before, and we don’t feel like there’s any particular reason to root for them to succeed, except that they seem to be fairly nice people, for the most part.

As with many mediocre comedies, it’s the supporting characters who carry “Zack and Miri.” Robinson’s Delaney and Mewes’ Lester are by far the film’s most entertaining characters, but they’re relegated to second-string as we have to watch Zack and Miri live out their boring lives with some boring melodrama.

Much as “Zack and Miri” has been hailed as a warm, romantic take on a Kevin Smith film, the warmth and romance ultimately ring hollow, and the film’s dirty jokes are funny, but not enough to carry an otherwise mediocre effort.

This is a beautiful day.

We have elected an impressive man to lead us, the sort of man that doesn’t just come along every day or every four years. We have elected a man who promises to go down in history not just for the barrier he has broken, but also for the work he will do.

America’s involvement in this political process has been nothing short of outstanding. More than 117 million people turned out to vote. By and large, they gave thought to real issues and made informed decisions. This is a great thing, too.

But if I can ask you anything, from one American to another, let it be this: Don’t stop here.

Political engagement doesn’t end with the election. When George Bush was elected, we were all either so appalled or so comfortable that we collectively closed our eyes and allowed events in Washington to proceed without involving ourselves or paying attention. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this attitude landed us in such a mess.

If Barack Obama has proven anything, it’s not that racism is dead in this country, because it’s certainly not, and it’s not that the American dream still exists, because it does for some and it doesn’t for others. What he’s proven is that if regular people who are just trying to make it through the week manage to find some time to get informed on what’s going on in our country, and get involved in the political process, they can make a difference. What he’s proven is that you don’t have to be a rich corporation to make a difference in this country’s political process.

You just have to be an American.

And so I ask you, America, and I wish more people would read this because this message needs to be heard: Stay involved. Keep on top of the news — and not just your local news, not just national news, not just news about Washington, but the much-neglected international news as well. America loves to close its eyes and hope that things will work themselves out. It’s the easy thing to do.

But if we want to make this country the beacon of hope and freedom that it’s supposed to be, we need to stay involved. The elections may be over, but neither we nor Washington should ever forget that the politicians still answer to us.

YES. WE. DID.

November 5, 2008

Barack Obama is the next president of the United States.

By golly, it’s enough to make me believe in my countrymen again.

Thank you, America. Thank you for giving Barack Obama the chance to fix our country.

I could cry right now.

On the eve of the election.

November 4, 2008

In these early moments of Election Day 2008, I’d like to offer some thoughts, perhaps some soothing to my fellow Democrats.

Most polls show Obama comfortably ahead, and we all know we can’t get comfortable, but there’s room for optimism.

Dixville Notch, N.H., population 75, is the first place to announce polling results in the United States. Dixville Notch hasn’t gone for a Democrat since ’68. Tonight, it went for Barack Obama, 15-6.

My friends (as John McCain would say), today is the day to believe in America. Today is the day to throw off the heavy cloak of racism that still haunts this country. Don’t be afraid, fellow liberals, of this “Bradley effect.” Believe in the power of the American people to correct the mistakes of the past eight years. Barack Obama is the last, best hope we have to fix this country, and no matter what attacks the Republicans throw at him, I think the American people know who’s gonna fight for them and who’s gonna just fight for power.

Barack Obama is the truth. Barack Obama is the future. Barack Obama is America. And so are you.

GET OUT AND VOTE.

First there was Sarah Palin with “Joe Sixpack,” an apparently extraordinarily fit ordinary American.

Now it’s John McCain with “Joe the Plumber,” who I guess from what was said is really wealthy, but John McCain really doesn’t want to let you figure that out.

It is absolutely laughable for John McCain to blast Barack Obama for negative campaigning, considering that I have NEVER, NOT ONE TIME seen a positive campaign ad put out by John McCain, and I’ve seen a lot of them. The “negative” ads that Obama puts out criticize McCain’s stances on issues such as healthcare and taxation. The McCain ads consistently assault Obama’s character.

John McCain is a stone-cold hypocrite, and that’s something that any Joe Sixpack should be able to see.

The future is later!

October 14, 2008

There’s a lot I want to say here. I’m not really sure what it all is. But I’m determined to say it at some point.

One thing I’d really like to do to change the tone here a bit from my gloomy rants of disgust with the political process is writing some more reviews. I haven’t actually gone to see a movie in some time, hence the lack of film reviews, but I’d like to do some other things too. In chief, I plan to at some point in the near future talk about something very important: finding good pizza in Philadelphia. It’s way harder than you’d think. There are only a couple places left that I need to try, and once I’ve done so I will lay it all out for you, my faithful reader(s?), and you will know where to go to find pizza that breaks the with the rich Philadelphia tradition of “cheese” and “sauce” on cardboard — sorry, “crust.”

In the meantime, feel free to read about beer.

This thing I wrote!

October 13, 2008

I dunno if you guys noticed, but I do write things now and again. This weekend, I attended an Obama rally and the Flyers home opener, and wrote this article about it:

http://youthvote.washingtonpost.com/2008/10/12/obama_palin_fight_for_philly/

Yeah, the Washington Post (online). I am SO cool.

Roguevick? Maverogue?

October 6, 2008

With news of seven Palin aides now set to testify against the oh-so-ethical, secessionist, power-abusing governor of Alaska comes this small excerpt of an AP article:

McCain operatives called Monegan a ”rogue” who repeatedly tried to work outside normal channels for requesting money.

Maybe he’s not a rogue… he’s a maverick!

No, seriously, someday I will post real content again.

Republican Lie of the Day.

September 26, 2008

You know, I like the concept of the Republican lie of the day so much that I might just start another blog for that alone. 

To the point: John McCain has already won tonight’s debate.

No, really. Seriously. They already posted an ad that said McCain won a debate that hasn’t happened yet — a debate he didn’t even want to participate in (ostensibly because he wanted to work on a bailout solution, but more likely because he wants to avoid debates that aren’t in the town hall format). Oh, and it hasn’t happened yet.

I’m toying with the idea of live-blogging the debate, just because it promises to be just as damaging to the McCain campaign as Palin’s interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric were. 

Did you (yeah, you!) see Palin with Couric? Oh, boy, it was painful to watch. The fact (if it’s actually a fact) that the Russians would fly over Alaskan airspace if they decided to run combat missions in the United States and the fact that Alaska is next to Canada — these are, Sarah Palin feels, really legitimate foreign policy credentials.

The point: The McCain campaign will say anything, regardless of whether it’s provably or even possibly true.

When Barack Obama said, “They must think you’re stupid,” boy was he right.

Film Review: “Towelhead”

September 23, 2008

Sometimes when a movie’s done and the credits roll, all you can do is sit there and wonder why this film exists and what you were thinking every moment that you didn’t walk out of it. “Towelhead” is such a film.

With further consideration, I realize what I was thinking: There must be something good that happens in this movie at some point. Unfortunately, there isn’t; “Towelhead” just drags its characters and the viewer through the mud for 116 excruciating minutes. The film is, in short, a series of events that our society — and its 1991 iteration, in which the events take place — would consider not just wrong, but downright abominable, and certainly illegal.

“Towelhead,” based on the identically named novel by Alicia Erian, is about the sexual awakening, if you can call it that, of 13-year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil, who was actually 18 when the movie was made), the product of a Lebanese man and a white woman, neither of whom is in line for any parenting awards. The mother, Gail (Maria Bello), sends her daughter off after discovering that Jasira allowed Gail’s stereotypical dirtbag boyfriend, Barry (Chris Messina), to shave her bikini line. Jasira’s dumped on her father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi, best known for his work in “Six Feet Under,” in his first major big-screen role), a man with two defining characteristics: traditional (read: backwards, racist and hypocritical) views on family life and an extreme hatred for Saddam Hussein.

Rifat lives in a suburb of Houston where everything looks the same, but not in the generally friendly way of, for example, the town of Agrestic in “Weeds”; rather, the houses and their lawns have a bare and uninviting aura around them that must make coming home every day a good deal less than pleasant. Rifat and his Army Reservist next-door neighbor, Travis Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart, who plays a conflicted man about as well as anyone), are in an ongoing patriotism competition. Each man plants a nice, big American flag front and center on his lawn, leading to a couple lingering shots of the houses side by side, and for the life of me I couldn’t tell you which house is whose.

Soon after moving in with her father, Jasira discovers pornography and masturbation while babysitting Mr. Vuoso’s son, Zack. The audience is subjected to the image of Jasira sitting in the same room with Zack, rubbing her thighs together and quietly whimpering while fantasizing about topless ladies, as they both read (for the articles, of course) Mr. Vuoso’s porno magazines. At this point, it’s very easy to say, “Ah, I see where this story is going. She’s going to become a lesbian and come into conflict with her father’s traditional values and come of age!”

No.

Jasira does indeed like men, or at the minimum she comprehends that she’s supposed to like men, and so she goes through the motions of liking them. They like her, too, particularly Mr. Vuoso and Jasira’s boyfriend of sorts, Thomas (Eugene Jones III, another actor far older than 13). Without getting into too much detail, let us just say that there is conflict.

The thing is, that’s essentially the problem with the film. It’s an amalgam of tenuously connected conflicts that are just dumped on this poor young girl, who somehow manages to remain rather stoic through it all. The sexuality that pervades the entire thing is presented in a graphic, unpleasant manner; “Towelhead” is so cold and unfeeling in its dealing with its touchy subject matter that the film itself is in conflict with the viewer, constantly challenging the audience to keep watching despite the powerful desire to go do something more pleasant, like visit the dentist.

This all serves to obscure some noteworthy acting performances, particularly by the always reliable Eckhart, no stranger to playing a character in moral conflict. Mr. Vuoso spends much of the movie battling his shameful desires for Jasira, giving in just twice. The odd thing is that he never seems to be particularly ashamed of having or acting on his desire for her; only the consequences bother him. Eckhart and Macdissi have limited screen time together, but in that time they almost entirely silently convey a palpable mutual hatred. Unfortunately, that’s very nearly the only strong emotion that appears in the film.

Bishil is the main victim of the film’s cold treatment of the subject matter; she doesn’t overwhelm in the role of Jasira, but it’s hard to say that she had the proper role or direction to make the most of her acting talent. The performance rings of sincerity, but the fact of the matter is that Jasira doesn’t express much in the way of emotion for the duration of the film outside of the rare outburst. For the most part, Jasira is a wide-eyed observer of her own whirlwind of a life, and Bishil captures that effectively, but I can’t help but feel that director Alan Ball missed out on properly utilizing his young star.

At the end, the overwhelming feeling is that Ball missed out on a lot of things; most grievously, he failed to make a film that is in any way aesthetically or intellectually pleasing. “Towelhead” simply fails to justify its existence, which is right about the worst crime any movie can commit.