Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

Defying a trend toward baffling abstraction in movie titles — “Synecdoche, New York”? “Quantum of Solace”? “The Secret Life of Bees”? — Kevin Smith has given his new opus a name that tells you exactly what it’s about. Literal-mindedness has always been among Mr. Smith’s calling cards. His first film, about clerks, was called “Clerks.” And so it will hardly be shocking that “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is about two people, named Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), who make what my copy editors would prefer that I call a pornographic movie.

And really, in spite of an avalanche of verbal filth (and a smaller quantum of the visual variety), “Zack and Miri” is not very shocking at all. Mr. Smith has been tinkering with the dirty-mind/soft-heart combination for quite some time, forming a link of sorts between the humanist sexual anarchy of John Waters and the smutty Victorianism of Judd Apatow. He and his characters revel in dialogue that riffs on body parts and bodily fluids, but Mr. Smith’s stories are bathed — metaphorically! — in syrup and schmaltz.

So “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” in spite of its sometimes tiresome, sometimes amusing lewdness, follows a gee-whiz romantic-comedy formula that would not be out of place on the Disney Channel. Two best friends who have always been in love with each other discover that ... they have always been in love with each other. Granted, this revelation occurs while they are having sex in front of a camera, but it is so sweet and predictable that these potentially tawdry circumstances hardly matter.

Mr. Smith tries, with mixed results, both to rub our faces in the tawdriness and to erase it altogether. The movie wants to insist that pornography is a jolly, innocuous pursuit, but also to take refuge in a sincere, romantic traditionalism that is antithetical to the cynical, often playful sexual ethos of pornography. Mr. Smith is intent on making a love story, which is almost by definition the opposite of the kind of movie Zack and Miri set out to produce.

They are roommates, living in a run-down Pittsburgh apartment and in that treacherous stretch between the end of adolescence and the onset of maturity. Approaching their 10th high school reunion, Zack and Miri are broke, miserable and alienated. This has always been Mr. Smith’s comfort zone. He is a poet of failure, and Mr. Rogen is unmatched at playing reasonably nice, reasonably smart guys with minimal ambitions that they may nonetheless fail to realize.

Zack works in a Starbucks-like coffee shop alongside Delaney, a harried husband played by Craig Robinson (“The Office,” a show-stopping monologue in “Knocked Up”), who is fast becoming the most dependable comic counterpuncher in the business and who needs some bigger roles or a sitcom of his own right away. When Zack and Miri hatch their plan to climb out of debt by making a skin flick, Delaney becomes their producer.

A cast and crew materializes, including the real-life former porn star Traci Lords and the Kevin Smith stalwarts Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, who signs on as director of photography.

The best moments come early, before “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” decides to wear its heart on its sleeve and keep everything else in its pants. Justin Long and Brandon Routh — Superman! — do some droll camping at the reunion, and Mr. Mewes uses his deadpan immunity to embarrassment to good effect.

Like Rosario Dawson in “Clerks 2,” Ms. Banks (who plays Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s “W.”) is forced to be funny on a pedestal. She has to be the nice girl with the naughty mouth, just uninhibited enough to play along with Zack’s schemes but not so daring as to tarnish his idealized image of her.

The gauzy sweetness that envelops the end of the movie is not unwelcome, but not very convincing either. The “porno” remains unfinished, and so does “Zack and Miri,” having — like most pornography, interestingly enough — thrown away an imaginative premise to get down to predictable, mechanical business. It’s as if Mr. Smith were a plumber who knocked at your door and then, against all reasonable expectations, insisted on fixing the sink.

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some nudity and sexual situations, but mostly just talk.


Opens on Friday 01-31-2008.

Written, directed and edited by Kevin Smith; director of photography, Dave Klein; production designer, Robert Holtzman; produced by Scott Mosier; released by the Weinstein Company. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes.

WITH: Seth Rogen (Zack), Elizabeth Banks (Miri Linky), Traci Lords (Bubbles), Jason Mewes (Lester), Ricky Mabe (Barry), Craig Robinson (Delaney), Katie Morgan (Stacey), Justin Long (Brandon), Brandon Routh (Bobby Long) and Jeff Anderson (Deacon).

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Obama's Kenyan Aunt, an Illegal Immigrant in Boston

Elliott Spagat

Barack Obama's aunt, a Kenyan woman who has been quietly living in public housing in Boston, is in the United States illegally after an immigration judge rejected her request for asylum four years ago, The Associated Press has learned.

Zeituni Onyango, 56, referred to as "Aunti Zeituni" in Obama's memoir, was instructed to leave the United States by a U.S. immigration judge who denied her asylum request, a person familiar with the matter told the AP late Friday. This person spoke on condition of anonymity because no one was authorized to discuss Onyango's case.

Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one of them a federal law enforcment official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release.

Onyango's refusal to leave the country would represent an administrative, non-criminal violation of U.S. immigration law, meaning such cases are handled outside the criminal court system. Estimates vary, but many experts believe there are more than 10 million such immigrants in the United States.

The AP could not reach Onyango immediately for comment. No one answered the telephone number listed in her name late Friday. It was unclear why her request for asylum was rejected in 2004.

Onyango is not a relative whom Obama has discussed in campaign appearances and, unlike Obama's father and grandmother, is not someone who has been part of the public discussion about his personal life.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Kelly Nantel, said the government does not comment on an individual's citizenship status or immigration case.

Onyango's case — coming to light just days before the presidential election — led to an unusual nationwide directive within Immigrations and Customs Enforcement requiring any deportations prior to Tuesday's election to be approved at least at the level of ICE regional directors, the U.S. law enforcement official told the AP.

The unusual directive suggests that the Bush administration is sensitive to the political implications of Onyango's case coming to light so close to the election.

One of the sources acknowledged he was not a supporter of Obama or John McCain and said he has no plans to vote on Tuesday. He said that was not a motive for releasing the information.

Kenya is in eastern Africa between Somalia and Tanzania. The country has been fractured in violence in recent years, including a period of two months of bloodshed after December 2007 that killed 1,500 people.

The disclosure about Onyango came just one day after Obama's presidential campaign confirmed to the Times of London that Onyango, who has lived quietly in public housing in South Boston for five years, was Obama's half aunt on his father's side.

It was not immediately clear how Onyango might have qualified for public housing with a standing deportation order.

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