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If I were writing a biography on Kevin Smith, I would likely title it “From First to Worst: A Tale of Squandered Potential and the Fear of Growing Up.”
I know I’m hard on the guy, but he deserves it. Really. Eight years ago from the time of this writing, he released a tiny little black-and-white low-budget indie called CLERKS that had the critics abuzz with praise. And for good reason: as cheaply produced as it was, CLERKS was one of the most freshly original, clever, and funny movies to come out of the independent film movement in some time. Set in a pair of suburban retail establishments and featuring a cast of rookie performers often appearing in multiple roles, the movie featured groundbreaking dialogue and some great throwbacks to classic cinema. In one movie, Kevin Smith had become one of the most sought-after filmmakers in Hollywood. When I heard his second film, MALLRATS, was on its way, I was elated. I was especially excited to hear that peripheral characters Jay and Silent Bob would be back for the second movie. And while MALLRATS wasn’t nearly as groundbreaking or clever as CLERKS, it was entertaining in its own right.
By CHASING AMY, I had figured Smith had realized the limits of the Jay and Silent Bob characters, only involving them in one small but important scene in the movie. I felt this was a perfect way to conclude the “Jersey Trilogy”, and to bury the characters for good.
When DOGMA rolled around, I was a bit skeptical of Smith using Jay and Bob in such significant roles. I mean, I had been pretty satisfied with Smith’s three previous films, they weren’t flawless by any means, but they were definitely enjoyable on many levels. I won’t get in to how I felt about DOGMA as a whole (but if you want to read that review, check it out here) but one thing I was sure on was that I was pretty much sick of the Jay and Silent Bob characters as a whole. I felt they’d run their course, and wore out their welcome by the third reel of the film.
So Smith finally follows up this film with his “farewell” to the Jay and Bob characters, giving them their own starring vehicle: JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK. I have to admit, while I was again skeptical of Jay and Bob’s roles, I was actually thinking that Smith had a trick up his sleeve. I mean, there had to be some reason why he was milking these guys for all they were worth, right? I mean, after all, he said he was planning to bury the characters for good after this one, so there must be something exciting he planned to do with them, right?
First, a little side note: Shortly before this movie arrived in theaters, I took my first pilgrimage to Red Bank, NJ. For those who don’t know, Red Bank is the home of Kevin Smith and the location of his comic book shop, “Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash.” While in the shop, purchasing my “Berzerker” T-Shirt and my Buddy Christ dashboard ornament, the clerk at the counter asked me if I’d ever been to the Quick Stop. Being the avid CLERKS fan that I was, I made sure to get directions to the shop and made my way to it like a good little fanboy. So by the end of my trip, I was actually pretty stoked about seeing JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK.
For about the first five minutes, I was watching the greatest movie ever. Mainly because I got to see the return of Randal, Dante, Brody, and the sacred Quick Stop and Secret Stash I had just visited mere days earlier. But things fell fast, and I’m not just referring to the appearance of Ben Affleck within the first ten minutes either.
Here’s the lowdown on Jay and Silent Bob’s characters: Kevin Smith lost sight a long time ago on why they were so funny in the first place. For an example of this on its base level, go back and watch CLERKS again. Jay is this boisterous, brash, vulgar stoner who says whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Silent Bob, on the other hand, serves as his foil. He’s the ironic voice of reason that stays in the background. He serves almost as a guardian angel for his brash buddy Jay. He doesn’t just remain silent for no reason. HE speaks only when he has something important to say. Why speak for the trivial things in life when your best buddy will talk everyone’s ear off? When Bob finally speaks in CLERKS, it’s the statement that causes the main character’s epiphany. The other fine example of this is in CHASING AMY, where Bob has something to say again…and he says a mouthful. He speaks for a good five minutes to Holden McNeil about a past relationship, and it’s because he has something important to say. You see, Silent Bob isn’t silent because it’s his gimmick, he’s silent because he only speaks when he has something important to say.
Fast forward to J&SBSB. Silent Bob has become nothing but a slapstick sidekick. Of course, this wasn’t the first time he’s been portrayed like this (see MALLRATS), but the fact that he’s basically the co-lead in the movie and is nothing but a walking gimmick. One particular scene where this bothers the hell out of me is the scene where Bob does say his sole line of the movie. Jay and Bob are on the side of the road when they see a truck with an “Animal Actors” marquee on the side. Bob tries to point this out to Jay, but sits there waving his arms and using body language in which Jay cannot understand. Finally, frustrated, he opens his mouth and explains it. Again, this shows the silent thing as purely a gimmick. If Bob really had something to say, he wouldn’t have flailed his arms wildly until he got frustrated and gave up.
Aside from that major gripe about the main characters, this movie just wasn’t very funny. First item on the table: the gay jokes. Now I know that Kevin popped another disclaimer (read: apology) in to the closing credits because of the backlash from GLAAD, and tried to justify it by stating that it was all satire. But Kevin, I think the real problem here wasn’t that the jokes were offensive. It was that they just weren’t funny. Not a single one was original in any way, and weren’t anything I hadn’t heard twelve-year-olds say to each other on the playground. That’s one of the problems I have with gay humor in general: Almost none of it is clever or funny. It’s not that I’m overly sensitive or politically correct in any way, I just look for a little bit of thought to go in to it. You want funny gay jokes? Try PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT; ED WOOD; or KISS ME GUIDO. Shit, even CHASING AMY.
There were countless other things in the movie that weren’t funny in the slightest. I don’t care how many times I have to see Chris Rock play an angry black man. It’s never been funny. Will Ferrell’s over-the-top antics may have pleased the majority of the people in the theater I was in, but I found it about as amusing as a root canal. The double-entendre-filled passage between Ferrell and Jon Stewart’s newscaster character was so uninspired that a child could have written it. And much like my gripe of having to explain jokes in DOGMA, when you have to point out that Mark Hamill is making a cameo in your movie by doing a freeze frame and putting his name on the screen, then you’re insulting your audience.
Oh, and a message to you, Kev: you can’t make movies aimed at a specific audience and then be shocked when they don’t do as well as you’d hoped theatrically. The buzz was strong at first for J&SBSB, but when all the initial reviews report that you won’t get half the jokes unless you’ve seen the past four Smith movies (none of which were exactly blockbusters to begin with) the audience drifted. The studio should have realized that when they rolled the hype machine out for this film. It also had to be confusing for some viewers who have not seen the previous films when certain plot points came up (i.e the guy from the comic store suddenly showing up at the end of the movie with a beard and directing the movie. Yes, you and I know it was just Jason Lee doing double-duty as Brody Bruce and Banky Edwards respectively, but how would the average filmgoer know that?)
The movie wasn’t without its merits, and while I’ve got plenty of vitriol to spew about the film and Smith in general, I’ll point out the good as well. Some of the self-parody was enjoyable. I did enjoy seeing Matt Damon and Ben Affleck taking potshots at each others’ careers, and especially liked the concept of “Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season.” A lot of the cameos were done well, and not too gratuitously. Carrie Fisher’s cameo was appropriate, as were James VanDerBeek and Jason Biggs as the movie versions of Jay and Bob. And as a fan of the Jersey Trilogy, I enjoyed seeing the returns of Hooper X, The Jones sisters, Walt and Steve-Dave, and Willam Black in brief cameos. And of course, seeing Morris Day and the Time on my screen is always a good thing. But all of that couldn’t outweigh the negatives that this movie unfortunately carried with it.
But no matter what, no matter who criticizes his work, Smith always seems to play the “blame game.” To the critics that blasted MALLRATS, he basically gave a big middle finger to. And of course, he blamed the studio for MALLRATS not “living up to his vision.” To the heat he got from GLAAD, it was “my movie is satire.” When an actress the caliber of Linda Fiorentino refused to work with him again because of his inadequacies as a director, it was because she was “uncooperative.” Then there was his glass-house-and-stones approach to P.T. Anderson’s MAGNOLIA stealing his thunder (and the jokes that followed in J&SBSB.)
Let’s face it: Kevin Smith is a one-trick pony, and he’s managed to beat that horse dead in to the ground. He’s also managed to completely destroy every shred of his dignity by appealing (read: begging) to his ‘net fans to go see the movie a second time opening weekend so that he could have a chance at the top of the charts for the week (Smith even promised to send movie posters to people who mailed in the duplicate ticket stubs, thus bribing people to go see the film a second time.) This was also the same forum in which he sated that if J&SBSB did well, he might just be dragging them out “one more time” even though he publicly stated on numerous occasions that he was “burying” the characters once and for all. Want further proof that he’s run out of ideas? Look no further than “Clerks Sells Out” his proposed title for the compilation of the six animated “Clerks” episodes bound together for theatrical release. On top of that, he mentioned he still hasn’t ruled out making “CLERKS 2” even though he initially scrapped it and made J&SBSB. And his next, “legit”, supposedly Jay-and-Bobless movie? It’s going to be called JERSEY GIRL. Draw your own conclusions.
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