Kevin Smith can be a frustrating filmmaker with his perplexing sympathy for jerky, philosophical misfits and his annoying fondness at times for overwritten, unnatural dialogue. He crams so many thoughts and ideas into his character’s brains, it’s a wonder they don’t speak at the speed of Scorsese.
In Clerks, his remarkably ambitious, black and white debut, he introduced us to Dante, a variety store employee, and Randal, his obnoxious best friend who works the video store next door. Over the course of a single day, we learn of their undying contempt for customers, Dante’s implausibly active love life (two women want to be with this jerk?) and their insatiable desire for small talk. It was smart and sometimes funny but felt more like an exercise than a real movie. The needless sequel is far worse. In just a matter of minutes, Randal officially becomes "audience repellent", to use Bill Brioux’s great phrase, and single-handedly sinks the movie.
Mallrats, Smith’s dreadful follow-up, introduced us to two more smart-ass losers, Brodie, a prickly comic book collector, and his friend, T.S. Both deservedly get the heave-ho from their beautiful girlfriends at the start which makes the rest of the picture, where they both plot a way to win them back while carrying on one forced conversation after another, a long, tedious waste of time. It’s easily the least funny and least credible Smith film.
Ben Affleck plays another unlikeable protagonist, a smug comic book artist, who falls hard for a beautiful, intelligent lesbian who’s far too good for him in the overrated Chasing Amy. And please don’t get me started on Jersey Girl.
So just when I thought Dogma would be the sole Kevin Smith film worth recommending (despite its annoying fundamentalism), along comes Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. Released in August 2001, it promotes the two most entertaining supporting characters from his first four films to lead roles. Long resistent to the idea of a full-length stoner comedy, Smith surprisingly finds his comic rhythm here in what is easily his funniest work to date. No clunky dialogue this time.
As you may recall from Clerks, Jay (Jason Mewes) and his "hetero life mate" Silent Bob (Smith minus the glasses but with longer hair) are pot dealers who hang outside the Quick Stop variety store. Jay’s the hilariously oversexed, big talker while the facially expressive Bob speaks only when absolutely necessary. He makes the economical Clint Eastwood seem overly chatty by comparison.
Our strangely lovable heroes are the inspiration for an underground comic called Bluntman & Chronic (co-created by Affleck’s character in Amy), a Batman & Robin parody which has been optioned by Miramax Films (who good-naturedly distributed this movie through their horror subsidiary, Dimension). After getting arrested for dealing outside the Quick Stop, which inspires Randal from Clerks to seek a restraining order against them, they visit a comic book shop owned by their friend, Brodie (Jason Lee’s character from Mallrats). When he informs them of the B&C movie, they’re upset about not being properly compensated. So they pay Affleck a visit where he shares more troubling news. He sold his B&C rights so he can’t help them out and anonymous Internet critics of the duo are bashing them relentlessly on moviepoopshoot.com. None of them are looking forward to the movie.
Suddenly nursing bruised egos, they ignore Affleck’s sensible advice on cashing in on the movie, and decide to make the journey to Hollywood in order to sabotage the production. In their minds, if the movie gets cancelled, their reps will be saved. There’ll be no reason for anyone to hate them anymore. They have three days to make it happen.
Along the way, they inadvertently get mixed up with a gang of hot chicks who claim to be animal rights activists but are really jewel thieves who love dressing like Catwoman. One of them (played by the charming, bespectacled Shannon Elizabeth) develops a crush on Jay who falls for her the minute he sees her. Without realizing it, our heroes are being set up and soon, they’re on the run with Suzanne, the orangutan they rescue (who we first met in the very last scene of Mallrats). Hot on their trail is the very funny Will Farrell. He’s a dimwitted Federal Wildlife Marshall who would prefer being an FBI agent, but is incapable of getting past his own stupidity. He’s a strangely sympathetic character despite being a total screw-up.
Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back is benefitted greatly by terrific cameos. Look for self-deprecating turns from people like Mark Hamill, Jason Biggs, James Van Der Beek, and most especially, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (yes, he also plays himself). To hear the latter two goof on each other’s flops is fantastic. To see them sell out spectacularly as they shoot a scene for their goofy Good Will Hunting sequel is funny stuff, as well. (Recently, they’ve been good sports about being "fucked" by Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman.) It’s difficult not to respect movie stars like this who are so willing to shred themselves with brutally satiric material again and again.
The movie is funny from start to finish despite numerous plot contrivances. Honestly, how did the sweet Elizabeth ever get accepted into that gang? How can Ferrell confuse an animal for a small child? How are Jay And Silent Bob able to have a light saber battle with a game Mark Hamill when those effects are always added in later during post-production? How can no one know what they look like when they have their own comic book?
The good news is you’re too busy laughing your ass off to care. We get plenty of cheeky sex and drug humour, that’s to be expected, but the funniest material involves movie parodies, most especially the fearless digs aimed at Miramax who must have the thickest skins in the world to allow Smith to hammer them as hard as he does. Good sport that he is, he takes humourous hits of his own.
However, we could’ve been spared the thankfully brief presence of Seann William Scott. (He’s more creepy than funny.) Also, some of Chris Rock’s "I hate Whitey!" routine gets old very quickly. Nonetheless, this is a star-studded spectacle that ends up being more fun than expected. Eliza Dishku and Ali Larter, two beauties frequently misused in movie after movie, are solid villains here who clearly relish their screen time. Judd Nelson (who I initially didn’t recognize), George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Tracy Morgan and Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show) all make the most of theirs, as well. Very few jokes actually bomb. This is definitely a Sore Jaw Comedy.
Ultimately, though, if we didn’t care about Jay And Silent Bob and didn’t connect with their senses of humour, the movie wouldn’t work. Thankfully, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith pull through with solid performances. Now, how about a sequel?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 24, 2008