In terms of potty-mouthed conversational dialogue, adult characters who behave like stunted adolescents and improvisational joie de vivre, the movie certainly resembles Apatow classics like "Superbad" or "Knocked Up." Then there's the casting. "Zack and Miri" stars Apatow's go-to guy, Rogen, and enlists actors familiar to comedy lovers from having appeared in Apatow-produced films: Robinson ("Pineapple Express"), Banks ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") and Gerry Bednob ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story").
Turns out that Apatow considers Smith one of his primary influences. At a panel discussion at this year's Comic-Con pop culture and comic-book convention in San Diego, when asked by an audience member what filmmakers inspired his career, Apatow said: "Kevin Smith laid the track."
Likewise, writer-actor Rogen -- whose improv acting style and curse-word vocabulary defines the Apatow ouevre -- credits Smith's 1994 Sundance hit "Clerks" with forming his filmic worldview.
"I've been a fan of Kevin's since I was 13," said Rogen, reached by phone on the set of Apatow's dramedy "Funny People." "I was hugely influenced by 'Clerks.' It was extremely real and conversation-based -- a lot like how our writing is now. It was how we talked but a way you almost never saw in movies: people having really filthy, frank conversations about porno or 'Star Wars.' I had never seen guys talking about 'Star Wars' in a movie!"
For his part, Smith is untroubled by the comparisons.
"It's this weird, snake-eating-the-tail thing. If what I did early in my career opened a window for these cats, they kicked open a door for me with this movie. Judd found a way to do this really successfully. And it cleared my road for this. It made a type of comedy that is the only comedy I know how to make financially viable."
In "Zack and Miri," Robinson plays Delaney, Rogen's character's coffeehouse co-worker who ends up producing the titular porn film. The "Office" cast member compared and contrasted Apatow's and Smith's on-set demeanors.
"With Judd, it's more holding your hand. He's going, 'Keep it real! Keep it real!' " Robinson said. "Kevin's more laid back. He'll watch you dance. He's laid back in the chair just going, 'Bee-yoo-tiful. Bee-yoo-tiful.' The common denominator is that they both got the raunchy humor and that heart."
A taste for success
Hours before Smith would catch a flight to screen "Zack and Miri" at the Chicago Film Festival, he again pondered its commercial prospects. "This is the first time my sensibilities and mainstream sensibilities have met," he said, lighting his umpteenth cigarette. "Not in a perfect way. But better than I've ever met the mainstream before."
But he wasn't quite finished on the topic of his weight.
"The results of this movie will be interesting. Come opening weekend, if it does well, I'll want to reward myself by eating more. And if the movie does poorly, I imagine I'll want to self-medicate and eat more. Hollywood's a hard town to be fat in!"
Lee is a Times staff writer.