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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 extensive 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.

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