By Ron Wells | November 8, 1999

Now, I can already hear all the flames in my head. They go something like this: ^ “It’s only a stupid comedy!” ^ “You’re just some aging hipster trying to look cool.” ^ “You just hate Kevin Smith.” ^ “You don’t believe in God.” ^ “You hate Catholics.” ^ “You’re not capable of understanding true faith.” ^ “You are going straight to HELL!”
I’m sure that at least four of those items are even true. I’m not exactly enamored with the self-styled “King of the Fanboys”. I’ll readily admit Smith has displayed wit, intelligence, and promise. He just hasn’t displayed any growth. I don’t mean as a filmmaker; I mean as a PERSON.
Why? Smith always reminds me of a really hyper 17-year-old who’ll do anything to make his buddies laugh and can’t figure out why girls won’t go out with him even after his parents gave him their old Camaro. Self-absorbed, but not self-aware: he’s completely oblivious to his limitations or how others perceive him.
Let’s look at the films. “Clerks” followed the maxim, “Write what you know.” Here’s a film about a pair of arrested adolescents in what are a couple of after-school jobs. The next film is made for a major studio, “Mallrats”. It staggers all over the place, and WAY over the line. I’m not sure, but I think Ben Affleck’s repeated threats of violence, date rape, and forced anal sex may have killed the jocularity factor. Did Smith pitch the film as “Sixteen Candles” meets “American Me”? The rest of the humor seemed somewhat inaccessible to anyone who couldn’t recite the charter line-up to Marvel Comics’ “The Avengers” from memory.
“Chasing Amy” kept the funny-book angle and spiced it up with a female fantasy figure. If Smith hadn’t cast his then current girlfriend in the lead, I’d have suspected that he’d never even talked to a girl before.
Now in, “Dogma”, two renegade angels (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck) booted out of heaven find a loophole in church doctrine that will allow them back in. Unbeknownst to them, the act will bring about the negation of all existence. A motley band of misfits led by abortion doctor Linda Fiorentino and Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are sent to stop them.
I believe I’ve heard our auteur state that he wasn’t trying to create controversy and that this film is a just heartfelt expression of his Catholic beliefs. I can buy the last one but not that he’s delusional enough for the first one. Smith has gone out on a limb and imbued the picture with his religious beliefs. That is, unfortunately, the problem.
The story grinds to a halt every time a character feels the need to recite a chunk of the director’s belief system. Worse, it’s a 17-year-old’s view of religion, near the beginning of a process. Kevin has examined the church doctrine, ridiculed the sillier parts, rejected what he can’t accept, embraced what he can, but still ignored all the issues he’s not quite ready to address.
Don’t get me wrong. Smith should be commended for committing a great deal of thought on the subject. It was just the wrong stop on his little journey of discovery to make this picture. As he seems not to have worked through all the inconsistencies and contradictions himself, they worked their way into the film instead. If there is a God, we’re supposed to accept that he sits atop a bloated bureaucracy? Omnipotence doesn’t seem to count for as much as used to. I do NOT believe a Christian (Catholic, Baptist, whatever…) should be required to make perfect sense out of their denomination’s “dogma”. To paraphrase “The Simpsons”, “…there is no room for prayer in the schools, just as there is no room for facts or reason in the church.” Religion is not an intellectual exercise. Its role is to fulfill spiritual (and some psychological and emotional) needs. A person needs their world to make some sense to them, and religion can comfort with answers that science can not yet provide.
HOWEVER, a movie needs to make sense to its audience. Smith’s patchwork construct of belief seems to exist to turn Catholicism into an “X-Files”-style conspiracy of equivalent scope, complexity, and opacity; all smothered in a layer of potty humor. The only reasons would be to provoke controversy and prolong the first couple of acts as long as possible. The mythology lectures are broken up primarily by some random demons Kevin thought were cool or by a Gilligan-esque act of arbitrary stupidity, usually by Jay. With a sort of “Duke Nukem” video-game structure so Smith can delay our heroes until they are ready to fight the boss character.
As a matter of fact, instead of lacquering the film with non-stop “Star Wars” jokes, Silent Bob just steals a lot of the plot structure from Lucas. Jay even states that he and Bob are Han and Chewie. In reality, they’re more like C-3PO and R2-D2.
One of the main characters eventually interrupts the stormy waves of extraneous information with the thought, “I think it’s more important to have ideas.” Kevin Smith has quite a few of those suckers but they don’t actually go together. With the tonal shifts between earnest and obnoxious, you feel as if you’re channel flipping between “South Park” and “Davey and Goliath”. Then again, I did say religion wasn’t about making sense. In this case, I would have settled for funny.

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