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Dogma (1999)

10 July 2002 by Gnoll 5 Comments

DOGMA


1999, Dir. Kevin Smith
130 min. Rated R.
Starring: Linda Fiorentino, Benn Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock.

Review by Noel Wood

Okay, First things first. I saw DOGMA in the theater in the summer of 1999 when it was originally released, after anticipating it for months. I fucking hated it. I just really felt it was forced drivel with poor execution. I really enjoyed Kevin Smith for what he was and was looking forward to him tackling a serious subject matter, but I thought this movie was a miserable failure.

Fast-forward roughly a year and a half. I recently purchased a DVD player, and top of my priority list of must-have DVDs were the Jersey Three: CLERKS, MALLRATS, and CHASING AMY. I enjoy all three movies, but mostly, the DVDs are full of extras and stuff so they’re rather attractive ones to own. Thing is, when people see that I have those three, they usually inquire why I didn’t get DOGMA too. I usually respond to them by saying “it sucks”. But so many people correct me on that issue that I decided to rent DOGMA on DVD and see if there was something I was missing the first time around.

Keep in mind here that critics loved DOGMA. Entertainment Weekly, the producers of fine weekly birdcage liners that they are, gave DOGMA an A. For a point of reference, They gave the Coens’ brilliant Odyssey retelling O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU an F and put it on the worst-of-2000 list. Roger Fucking Ebert gave the movie three and a half stars. Ebert is still a mindless studio shill, but he’s also pretty much the most-observed movie critic out there.

Okay, I’m not a movie snob. I mean, I can be, but for the most part I’m not. I enjoy BILLY MADISON as much as I enjoy CASABLANCA. But I also realize that a lot of what comes with the results of a film is in reference of the intent. A goofy screwball comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously is great, so long as it’s funny. A slow-moving art film is fine, as long as it is executed properly. I’m not in to all that “All movies starring Pauly Shore are going to suck and all Subtitled Wartime dramas are 4-star affairs” mentality. I judge movies based on individual merit and intent, not because of the genre and/or theme. Well, maybe not Pauly Shore movies. Okay, maybe I might have laughed once or twice during ENCINO MAN. Or not. I’m getting off track here.

My point is that because I am a Kevin Smith fan, most people think I should love DOGMA. After all, it’s got the same brand of humor that the Jersey Trilogy employs, and even includes Jay and Silent Bob in prominent roles. But here’s where the problem lies—That’s the reason I DIDN’T like DOGMA. You see, I didn’t like it the first time, but in a sense, I wasn’t sure why. It bothered me that the script had these people talking in complete candor about Christianity the whole freaking movie. But what REALLY bothers me isn’t the fact that they’re doing it, it’s the fact that they’re doing it in Kevin Smith dialogue. It worked for CLERKS. It worked for MALLRATS. And for the most part, it worked for CHASING AMY. I’ll get in to that in a second.

But it didn’t work in DOGMA. The subject matter here is just not fitting of the dialogue. Everyone was stating how this would be Kevin Smith’s big triumph as a serious filmmaker. Which I think is funny, because if that was going to happen, it should have happened with CHASING AMY. Remember what I said earlier: part of the reason to judge a movie is its intent. CLERKS was supposed to look like a low-budget comedy. MALLRATS was supposed to be a stupid teen flick. CHASING AMY’s intent was a little bit more serious, and for me, it worked. The subject matter was so that you could have a pseudo-serious romance story blended in with raunchy humor. The film was flawed in a lot of ways, but for all intents and purposes, I enjoyed it.

Now here comes DOGMA. You have a plot which could conceivable be at the heart of a Best Picture winner: Two angels, expelled from heaven, find a loophole in Dogmatic law which would allow them to return to heaven while in turn disproving that God is infallible, thus creating Armageddon. The last blood relative of Christ is recruited to stop them before they can perform such a task. Folks, this SHOULDN’T have been a comedy. The fact of the matter is that Kevin Smith got too comfortable with the idea that he could use his brand of humor on anything and sell it. He’s wrong. DOGMA is probably the greatest case of a wasted opportunity to make a great film I have ever had the witness to view.

I LIKE Jay and Silent Bob. They were among the brightest spots in CLERKS. When I heard they would be featured in the follow-up, I was elated. I think they were a bit overused in MALLRATS, but for the theme of the film they fit in rather nicely. Remember, intent. For CHASING AMY, Kevin finally found the perfect use for them. Silent Bob as the ironic voice of reason worked wonders in this film, and to me was the trilogy’s true climax. But in DOGMA, they should have been left alone. I was literally tired of seeing them by the third reel. Yeah, they had some pretty funny moments in the film. The scene in the diner where they discuss John Hughes movie and the part about being in that FUCKED up bar is side-splittingly funny. And it would have been great in Kevin Smith’s next screwball comedy. There’s a lot of funny stuff in this movie that got wasted, in fact.

“So”, you ask, “How would you have done DOGMA”? Or maybe not. Maybe you’re just reading this because you’re bored or were forced to and you really don’t give half a shit. Who knows? But I’ll tell you how I would have done it, whether you like it or not.

– Keep Bartleby and Loki pretty much the same. The dark humor in their characters actually works. The comedic killing spree they go on could stand to be toned down a bit, but for the most part, this was the only time I ever really enjoyed a Ben Affleck performance.

– Keep Linda Fiorentino’s character basically the same. Same type of doubtful religious stance, same standoffish attitude. She worked pretty well in this film.

– Get Jay and Bob COMPLETELY out of the picture. They don’t belong here. Like I said, they had some funny moments but they just didn’t work in this film. The idea of having two prophets who don’t realize their importance is a fine idea, but to make them characters that are just being used because they fit the “Viewaskewniverse” was a bad move.

– Watching the second time, I realize that Rufus the 13th apostle is a useless character. He has no reason to be in this film other than to provide additional comic relief and to put some ethnic humor in to the picture. Lose him. Work the script completely around him.

– Replace Jason Lee with someone who could pull off Azrael a LOT better. I like Lee, but he wasn’t very good in this film. Replace him with someone who can be dark and foreboding. Christopher Walken would be great if he hadn’t already played a similar role in THE PROPHECY. Give him REAL demons too, not kids on roller blades. The way the demons were used didn’t require them to take human form because they never had to “blend” like the angels did. Give Azrael some real demons to do his ass kicking for him.

– Of all the things I was NOT looking forward to before the film, one worked well: Alanis Morrissette as God. I’d keep her just the way she is. At least I wouldn’t have to hear Jay making comments about getting a stiffy when she kissed him if he wasn’t in it.

– GIVE THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR TO AN EXPERIENCED DIRECTOR. Kevin Smith might have some talent when it comes to writing comedy, but as a director he sucks ass. Always has. That’s forgivable when the movie is shot in 16 mm black and white stock and involves people talking about nothing the whole time. Smith has made four films now, and he should know where his strengths and weaknesses are. He also needs to understand that good filmmakers GROW in their experience over time. Sam Raimi used to make low-budget horror flicks but he learned what he can and can’t do when he moved in to other genres. There was no flying eyeball shot in A SIMPLE PLAN, if you know what I mean, Kev. Kevin Smith still thinks he can get away with the same techniques he was using when he was making student films on movies that are much grander in scale. That’ll kill a director’s career in a heartbeat. Just ask Robert Rodriguez.

– Kill the camp. In a nutshell, the plot of DOGMA was intriguing. The slapstick nonsense was distracting above anything else.

You know how Smith fans were all outraged that his SUPERMAN LIVES script was hacked up beyond recognition by Tim Burton (well, before it was finally put to rest)? I never got to see the script, but I have a feeling it was because Smith’s brand of talking head screenwriting only works in ONE SMALL GENRE of film. Something tells me Clark Kent and Lois Lane would have been speaking frankly about the effect that skee-ball had on the sex drive of young males or something along those lines. People tore Tim Burton apart for that, but Tim Burton knows better. He’s been where Kevin Smith has been, and he was able to find a niche that worked andmore importantlythe limitation of it. Tim Burton doesn’t direct straight-laced westerns, he directs fairy tales and fantasy. He would likely pass on a project that exceeded his usual expectations for a movie. He also is humble enough to not try to bask in his previous glory by parlaying it into a scenario where it doesn’t belong.

DOGMA, like I said before, was a wasted opportunity. Scratch that. Make that TWO wasted opportunities. He had almost enough good jokes here to pull a comedy from this flaming wreck of a picture, and had a good enough story pitch to create a pretty nice little religious drama/horror movie. But guys like Ebert will continue to give Smith mad props for anything he does. I’ll bet he gives JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (which is the title Smith used to replace CLERKS 2: HARDLY CLERKIN’) 4 stars and will claim it should win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes.

5 Comments »

  • Dustin said:

    I can understand your views on Dogma. In many, if not MOST cases, you were right on spot. Only good Ben Afleck movie, good killing spree, but a little over-the-edge, Jay, Bob, and Chris Rock all got annoying to no end. Personally, after once or twice, I wanted to see it done without prophets at all. All they really did useful was save her from the demons ONCE.

    Speaking of the demons, I think they fit really well as those teens. Seriously, you would know if there was a six foot tall horned beast sneaking up behind you. Now, kids rolling by on blades? Easy to miss. Who would think the kids playing hockey would kill you?
    Now, I’m not in love with what Smith did with the kids, (They were far too, I want to say Tacky) But I still stick by my saying they make pretty good demons. Especially the “leader” demon. Creepy-ass kid if you ask me.

    Now, for Azrael, agreed: someone else should have played him. Disagreed: Not Christopher Walken. MAYBE Kevin Corrigan. Possibly Mathew Lillard, He had his creepy moments in SLC Punk!. I’m not honestly sure who I would cast, but I’ve never been too impressed with Christopher Walken. Plus, when the need became great, he pulled out a real demon, even if it was a little shitty. (sorry, “corny” joke)

    The 13th? No. I agree with you, he should not have been there. He was only there so there as the token black guy, and that sucks.

    Finally, I don’t think it was necessarily a wasted opportunity. I actually enjoyed the movie as it was. I enjoyed Dogma as a comedy, it just made me smile. However, I don’t really like all the “Best Picture winner/religious drama” stuff. I’ll watch, but I rarely enjoy. I do think it would make a good one, but I don’t think it was wasted. The way I see it, if someone took this movie, took out enough of the annoying characters and fixed enough of it, in 5 or 10 years, someone could do Dogma again, but in a religious drama stand.

    Well, if you’ve gotten this far and don’t want to hire someone to kill me, consider yourself my friend. Thanks for your time.

    Your friend,
    Dustin

    P.S. I don’t really mind because I worked around them, but you have some blatant spelling/punctuation errors. If you could fix those, this article would read more intellitently than it already does.

    P.P.S. Sorry if I had any spelling/punctuation problems. I don’t write very intelligently.

  • DaS said:

    Just to comment on well, your comment about the Superman lives project… Kevin Smith is an insane reader and admirer of comics, comic book heroes and their mythology and artwork. He WOULD NOT have screwed it up nor converted it to dick and fart jokes! If u’ve seen the script, which clearly you haven’t, u’ll see it’s a good take on the story, it was approved by all the top dogs at Warner Bros too! Burton was a little bitch who had proir beef with Smith, thus cancelling his version of the script! This later bit Burton in the ass cuz the movie never got made in the end!

    Thank you

  • shaun said:

    stop saying that you are a kevin smith fan, you hate most of his movies, you dont know shit about him and didnt understand dogma, find another job cause you fucking suck in this one

  • Sheri said:

    I agree with 90% of this review. Before Kevin Smith ever made a BIG Blockbuster movie like “Dogma”, which was quite humorless in stark contrast to “Clerks” and “Mallrats” and featured a cast of high profile actors as well as the regulars (it’s safe to say Kevin Smith essentially launced the careers of Jason Lee, Jason Mewes and Ben Affleck), not to mention Alanis Morissette (more on her in a bit) he made “Drawing Flies”. Remember, he started out as black and white INDIE. “Mallrats” was his first technicolor creation. It worked because we were introduced to his special brand of humor and if we hadn’t already heard of “Clerks”, we were sure to go looking for it after seeing “Mallrats”, out of a newfound love for Kevin’s work, or it could have worked the other way around. And amazingly, unless you were a big enough fan, many had not even heard of and could not get their hands on a copy of “Drawing Flies”. It still remains that way today. Netflix says it is infinitely unavailable. Try illegally downloading it, and there is ONE copy and it’s 1/2 there. I know, I tried. Anyway, ever since “Dogma”, which was the beginning of the end of my adoration of Kevin Smith films, I have given all his movies a chance and have consitantly been disappointed. Not that I am not a fan–oh, and I’m completely leaving “Chasing Amy” out, sorry, but I agree it worked for a romantic comedy, probably the best one ever, actually, but I have never been into romances however hilarious and realistic they are–no, it is not that I am not a fan of Smith nor that I never was. It’s just obvious he took it too far, which has happened with many very talented artists, directors, musicians–you name it. Sometimes the earlier works of someone far exceed the quality of later creations. Sometimes, as you mentioned with Tim Burton, they’re later work is better. Let’s not forget “Planet of the Apes” and “Batman Forever” unfortunately exist because of Burton, but that’s beside the point. In rare cases, the work is perpetually awesome. But in Smith’s case, as is quite evident with “Red State”, his talent as a writer, director, and actor is gone. Jason Mewes has moved on to making bad horror movies, Ben Affleck is now “Batman”, and Jason Lee is making children’s movies. View Askew is history. Kinda sad, actually, in complete retrospect. Oh, and as I mentioned earlier, about Alanis Morisstte as God–not a good casting call at all. I see the very blatently obvious point Smith was making throughout the whole movie and even to the end when she pops in–but it made me feel incredibly awkward watching her do headstands and play God–almost the whole reason I have never watched “Dogma” again, aside from the shit he pulled with Golgothan.

  • Bill said:

    Absolutely and completely hated this film. When it wasn’t depressing, it was pretentious. When it wasn’t pretentious, it was just stupid and vulgar.
    I watched in thirty-minute installments in order to finish the film, despite falling into deep fits of narcolepsy.

    I now hope for an afterlife, if only to regain the two and a half hours I wasted trudging through this piece of crap.

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