If you’re a die-hard fan of Kevin Smith movies, nothing we do or say will convince you not to pay full price, nor even offer to pay double, in order to see this movie. Go, with our blessing. (Well, every one of us except for Jack Reda, The Script Doctor.) For the rest of you, know that Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back was not made for you. You may find it funny, but not in all the same places as that kid in the Clerks t-shirt.
Not so much a film as a party with a plot, this movie begs for the DVD Special Edition to come out now. Smith has assembled as many of his friends as he could, and placed them in situations that largely lampoon their screen images. We need to be able to access that special bonus feature with production notes in order to keep up with it all.
To get the movie rolling, Smith offers up the “origin” of his title characters, using his own daughter to portray himself (Silent Bob) as a baby. She’s named after a comic book character (Harley Quinn Smith) and played her own father in a movie. Oh, yes, there will be psychological issues. Or she will grow up to marry Kal-El Bogdanove and everything will be fine.
Anyway, the adult Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob discover that a film is about to be made from a comic book,, Bluntman and Chronic, that features them. (Established in Chasing Amy and later actually published by Oni Press, then Image, then…didn’t Harlan Ellison write a short story like this?) The creator of the comic, Holden (Ben Affleck, who later plays himself), informs them of the plans and introduces them to the internet.
Incensed by on-line gossip confusing them with their comic book alter-egos, the two determine to go to Hollywood and stop the production. Along the way they run into super-hot jewel thieves, liberate a monkey, and prove that Buffy’s on-screen boyfriend would have made a better Fred in Scooby Doo than her real fiance. (See? All this sly in-joke referencing is contagious. Stop me before I go obscure again…)
Everyone involved seems to be having a great time, and some let us in on the fun. Affleck, in particular, strikes hard at his own image. When teamed up with Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season, both rag harder on their careers than any critic could possibly hope to do. Others just show up for those who recognize them, such as Marvel Editor-in-Chief’s cameo as a pizza delivery boy. It can’t be hard to act surprised and pleased when Eliza Dushku threatens to have sex with you. All right, we’re jealous – please give us cameos, Mister Smith.
As usual, Mewes has an easy rhythm as the talkative Jay, though for some, he’s best in small doses. While Smith has been doing the talk-show circuit explaining how Affleck gets on him for not so much acting as mugging, he misses the point. Once upon a time, Silent Bob was implacable and wise. Now he makes bigger faces than Jim Carrey. The three times he actually speaks, though we have long awaited his calling Jay an idiot, are a waste compared to the dialogue he gave himself in Clerks and Chasing Amy.
This time around, the dialogue just does not have the same crackle and wit that got Smith attention in the first place. Yes, as Smith has oft been quoted saying, there have always been dick and fart jokes. But in between those, somebody would say something clever. Here, many of the jokes just feel stale; we all figured out years ago that Shaggy had to have been high. It does have a vibe closest to Mallrats, but at least that film didn’t leave open plot holes a mile wide (to reveal it here would be to spoil it) and obeyed its own logic.
Ironically, his directing has never been better. Smith coaxes the best performance out of Damon in years, and gets director Gus Van Sant to seem natural on camera. He fails with Wes Craven, but then, not even Wes Craven could make himself seem real. For the first time in a Kevin Smith movie, the camera moves; Smith the artist is beginning to take chances.
As Smith moves into what he calls more mature fare (or not), this could be a good sign. If he ever gets his Fletch adaptation off the ground with Jason Lee, it could be the final nail to make us all forget Chevy Chase.
Go if you must. As parties go, we had a good time. We just think it could have been more. A fool says what he knows. A wise man knows what he says. And somewhere in between lie the films of Kevin Smith.