Gabe House: 'Zack and Miri' ruffling feathers

Gabe House

Kevin Smith is no stranger to controversy.

The Indie director has courted scandal as closely as Lucas does sci-fi fanboyism; as closely as Hitchcock did terror and suspense; as closely as Spielberg does the blockbuster.

Starting with 1995's cult-favorite "Clerks," Smith has featured such debauched acts as necrophilia, bestiality and extreme sacrilege in his films, often to the ire of the Motion Picture Association of America, but to the delight of his fans.

Now, with his latest film, Smith is finding that things are no different. "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" - which opens on Halloween - has landed the director in hot water once again. If one needs to know why, look no further than the title.

The flick, about a pair of best friends who - down to their last dollar - decide to make an amateur adult film, has drawn considerable attention for mostly obvious reasons. Never mind that the movie - starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks - is essentially a romantic comedy. Pay no attention to the brief instances of frontal nudity - which is never actually shown engaged in a sexual act, mind you. Oh, and please just completely disregard the last three words of the title itself. You see, there has been one problem after another for this movie.

Smith first had to fight with the MPAA over the film's rating. "Zack and Miri" initially received an NC-17 rating, which is the kiss of death for a movie and generally prohibits a wide release. He appealed the rating and, upon review, received an "R" rating for his film.

But that's not all. Various outlets - whether they be bus stops, television programs or billboards - refused to run advertisements for "Zack and Miri" with the full title being shown. It was in poor taste, they argued. So be it. Smith and company rolled with that punch, providing a billboard with stick figures that boasted of a movie so controversial the full title couldn't be shown.

And now, despite all the concessions made, the Megaplex theater chain, owned by Larry H. Miller, in Utah has refused to show the film. Megaplex general manager Cal Gunderson told The New York Post, "We feel it's very close to an NC-17 with its graphic nudity and graphic sex."

This, despite the fact Megaplex has recently shown "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," a film that showed male frontal nudity. Also, Megaplex recently began showing "Saw V," the latest in a series of films known for its brutal murders and squeam-inducing scenes of horrific torture.

When asked by the New York Post about the possible hypocrisy of showing "Saw V" but not "Zack and Miri," Gunderson had no comment. Incidentally, Miller also gained some attention for pulling "Brokeback Mountain" from his Megaplex theaters in 2006.

Obviously, this begs the question -- what is more offensive to sensitive societal mores: extreme violence or sexual content? Both of these films have been rated "R" for certain reasons, but what makes one more acceptable than the other? Would a person rather see a man's hands crushed in a vice grip or a naked body for a handful of seconds? Is a bladed pendulum threatening to eviscerate a person less shocking than the thought of a pornographic film?

Obviously, these are difficult questions to answer and must be decided on an individual basis. I know, for my money, I'd rather see a romantic comedy with a risqué premise as opposed to a cornucopia of blood and guts. Fortunately, I don't live in Utah, and I can make that choice on my own.