Movie Review: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
By Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune Movie Writer
There's a distinction to be made between filmmakers who present dope, crotch and flatulence jokes as a crass sop to the marketplace and those who do so because they actually think they're funny. All evidence indicates that Kevin Smith actually thinks they're funny. But the distinction isn't that great.
Smith's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is filled with dope, crotch and flatulence jokes. In fact, Ben Affleck, reprising his Holden role from Smith's "Chasing Amy" (as opposed to his brief appearance as Ben Affleck), even wonders aloud why anyone would bother to keep writing dope, crotch and flatulence jokes, although those aren't the terms he uses.
That wink-wink line illuminates Smith's general strategy: Thrash around unabashedly in a pool of eighth-grade-boy humor and inside jokes, then insert depreciating self-deprecating wisecracks to let everyone know he's aware of how shallow the water is. The writer/director/guy who plays Silent Bob (I'm not sure that makes him an actor) no doubt figures that by offering "toilet humor" instead of toilet humor, he can preserve his image as a generally smart guy.
But low comedy and pop-culture references don't make a movie; they make "Saturday Night Live" in its later years (an impression exacerbated by Smith's casting of hammy "SNL" vet Will Farrell as a foofy wildlife marshal). And "Jay and Silent Bob," is a disposable film, one that, aside from those universal doo-doo/sex jokes, will likely be incomprehensible in 50 years and wouldn't make much sense now to anyone not steeped in the world of movies, particularly Smith's.
For one, it's helpful to know that Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are characters who have appeared in each of Smith's films. Jay is a potty-mouthed pot dealer, Silent Bob his closed-lipped compadre who's prone to the occasional, dramatically timed outburst.
In Smith's pre-"Dogma" films, the duo is part of the colorful backdrop. Here they're center stage, prompting Affleck, as Holden, to ask: Who'd want to see a Jay and Silent Bob movie? Then he looks into the camera. Nudge, nudge.
Sorry, but anticipating such carping doesn't invalidate it. Mewes is a non-actor who may be convincing and in small doses amusing as a stoner but lacks the dimension or appeal to carry a movie.
As for Smith's Silent Bob, he's an affable presence and that's it; as in "Dogma," the director is overly keen on cutting to himself rolling his eyes. Mel Brooks and his movies became less funny as the filmmaker-actor moved to the foreground, and the same is happening to Smith. And Smith is no Mel Brooks.
The road-trip framework finds Jay and Silent Bob traveling from their New Jersey home base to Hollywood to protest Miramax's production of a movie based on their characters, which Holden previously had appropriated for his "Bluntman and Chronic" comic books. They also want to track down those dweebs on the Internet who keep posting anti-Jay and Silent Bob messages on an Ain't It Cool News-like Web site.
On the way, the duo encounters characters from Smith's previous four movies, actors who have appeared in Smith's movies (including Chris Rock in a surprisingly mirth-free turn as the angry "Bluntman and Chronic" director), characters based on upcoming non-Smith movies ("Scooby-Doo") and other film figures making gag cameo appearances.
The in-joke mania includes jibes at Affleck's post-"Chasing Amy" career choices; Affleck, Matt Damon and director Gus Van Sant sending themselves up as they make "Good Will Hunting 2" as a revenge action film; honeyed spitballs lobbed at Miramax (which has distributed almost all of Smith's films, including this one through its Dimension division); "American Pie" actor Jason Biggs enduring ridicule about his pie love scene; and Mark Hamill, in one of a gazillion "Star Wars" nods, appearing as a movie-within-a-movie villain accompanied by the on-screen note, "Hey, kids, it's Mark Hamill!"
Timeless or not, are the jokes funny? Occasionally, though the slyest ones tend to be the throwaways, such as when the mother of baby Silent Bob tells him, "This will keep the sun out of your eyes" before she places his trademark baseball cap atop his head backward.
A few movie references hit the funny bone, like Jay calling out, "Affleck, you the bomb in 'Phantoms.' Yo!" Many others don't, and little of this humor benefits especially from being in a movie setting. Smith, never much of a visual director, is likely to be just as bitingly entertaining about the movie biz while promoting "Jay and Silent Bob," and the jokes won't carry such a whiff of self-indulgence.
Then there's the problem of crudity of execution as much as language or subject matter. The crotch-related humor gets old not because it's offensive as some gay and lesbian activists have complained but because it's so mind-numbingly repetitive.
And although Smith has long reveled in the uninhibited use of naughty words (his "Clerks" successfully appealed the MPAA's initial NC-17 rating for language), the profanities of "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" were more amusing than the foul language-in-the-mouths-of-babes gag here.
What's in short supply is genuine wit. Smith might love to find and stomp his Internet detractors, but even if we don't share his indignation, he should be able to concoct a revenge fantasy that gives us something to laugh at.
His hostility also seems misdirected. One hated Internet geek is dubbed Magnoliafan, a reference to Smith's online dust-up with director Paul Thomas Anderson. But the only people who will get this and other jokes are fans geeky enough to read movie Web sites in the first place.
Smith has consciously made "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" his most frivolous movie; he's aiming for laughs that are unhampered by the heavy-duty issues he tackled in his ambitious, messy religion comedy "Dogma." Yet Smith is funnier when he's more thoughtful, which is why "Chasing Amy" remains his best movie; the laughs are connected to real feelings. Now that Smith has gotten these characters and jokes out of his system, here's hoping he can turn to material that doesn't require winking at the audience.
"Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"
Written and directed by Kevin Smith; photographed by Jamie Anderson; edited by Smith, Scott Mosier; production designed by Robert "Ratface" Holtzman; music by James L. Venable; produced by Mosier. A Dimension Films release; opens Friday, Aug. 24. Running time: 1:44. MPAA rating: R (crude and sexual humor, pervasive strong language, drug content).
Jay Jason Mewes
Silent Bob Kevin Smith
Holden/Ben/Chuckie Ben Affleck
Chaka Chris Rock
Justice Shannon Elizabeth
Willenholly Will Ferrell