Jay and Silent Bob suck back

By the

August 30, 2001

I consider myself a Kevin Smith fan. But when I heard that he was doing a new film that brought back characters from the previous four, I had a bad feeling. And last weekend, when I saw Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, those feelings were confirmed.

But I have to start from the beginning—and by that I mean Clerks—because like the plot of the film itself, a criticism of Jay and Silent Bob is pointless unless it’s placed within the larger context of Kevin Smith’s other films. I love Clerks. Yeah, the acting is only mediocre, the dialogue feels forced and those dictionary-required segment titles are a little pretentious. But none of that really matters when you watch it, because it just works. Unlike the sanitized, mass-marketed Reality Bites, Clerks fully captures Generation-X angst in a way that doesn’t alienate the non-consumerist audience it targets. And unlike the indie cult classic Slacker, its tone and humor isn’t too intellectual to reach out to an average apathetic college-age audience.

I’ll skip Mallrats, because well, I never saw it. But I don’t feel too bad, because Kevin Smith is always saying in interviews how he’s ashamed of it anyway.

Then there was Chasing Amy, which aside from being really funny and witty, was more than a little insightful. Its consideration of relationships reached well beyond the gay and bisexual context of the film and proved that Smith was more than capable of dealing with a variety of subjects.

Dogma confirmed this ability to work within a broad range, as its criticism of the Catholic Church was at least keen enough to get a rise out of the pope. Add to that the fact that it was entertaining, humorous and clever enough to make you think. Dogma, while my least favorite of the three, was still a good movie. The major element that drove this last film would later become the focus of Smith’s most recent film. I’m not referring to the prominence of the characters, Jay and Silent Bob, but rather, the fairly obvious influence of Smith’s rising popularity. First, there’s the cameos: Selma Hayek, Ben Affleck-Matt Damon-post-Good Will Hunting, Chris Rock, Alanis Morisette. And then, there’s the whole look and feel of the film—seamlessly edited and finely polished with a highly refined script (no more of that pointless dialogue we loved so much). Smith had come a long way since Clerks, and it might have been for the better, that is, if Jay and Silent Bob hadn’t decided to strike back.

It’s fairly obvious that Jay and Silent Bob was made for and marketed to the now-large following of Kevin Smith and his films. In fact, if you hadn’t seen at least two of the others, you probably would have missed half the jokes and been entirely lost in the plot, which might not have been altogether bad when you consider the story line. Smith originated the idea when he saw the audience’s positive reaction to a Jay and Silent Bob cameo in Scream 3. He decided that now would be a great time for a movie focused on the duo, who had appeared in his previous four films. In other words, he knew the two had star power and could make a lot of money. So he set up a scenario that sent them on a cross-country journey in order to stop Miramax from making a lame film about them—ring any bells?

Anyway, along the way they meet a variety of interesting people (a.k.a. huge stars doing stupid things), from Carrie Fisher dressed as a nun, to a gang of jewel thieves composed of the female stars of every teen flick to come out in the last two years. The scenarios are so over the edge that they’re clearly meant to parody other films, but since they lack wit and good comic timing, they miss the target entirely. There’s a few funny gags, but they’re the kind of jokes that are funnier when you discuss them afterwards than they actually are during the film. A couple of action scenes are added into the mix, but they’re far from suspenseful; and the romance is so absurd that by the third act, you’re so bored you just want it to end. Smith tries to spice up the generally flat storyline with a plethora of Hollywood-insider jokes, but you don’t really have to be inside Hollywood to understand them—so they just end up being kind of stupid.

Normally, I would ignore this kind of broad comedy and write it off as another stupid Hollywood teen blockbuster in the vein of Dude, Where’s My Car. But I can’t … because Kevin Smith wrote and directed it … Which makes it even worse.

It’s pretty obvious that Smith never wanted to limit his career to arty independents like Jim Jarmusch or Todd Solondz have. Clerks was intended to be the first stepping stone in a John Hughes-like pop-film career. But even though Smith isn’t well-versed in Truffaut and frequently uses low-brow humor, his films are significantly more mature than 90 percent of the other teen flicks and comedies Hollywood has released in the last decade. His films, which have a lot of audience appeal but are still smart, show that he has a lot of potential to make a difference in mainstream film. But Jay and Silent Bob gives into every Hollywood stereotype and sacrifices cleverness for cheap laughs every time. It’s like watching someone sell out right in front of your eyes, because you know that you could have been watching a good film. Instead, Smith drops what made the other films unique—the somewhat forced, but characteristic and insightful monologues, the distinct tone of each one and the deeply embedded wit. Simultaneously, he preserves all the less impressive, yet more marketable aspects—the actors from Clerks, the subplot from Chasing Amy and the cameos from Dogma.

Some might argue that the ironic nature of the film, which in fact makes fun of other Hollywood sell-outs (in one scene, Gus Van Sant refuses to say “action” because he’s too busy counting a wad of money) makes up for the fact that this movie is as bad as the ones it parodies. But really, it just makes it more pathetic, because you’re constantly reminded that insightful directors such as Kevin Smith end up making bad movies in order to make an extra buck and bolster their own celebrity following.

But let’s be honest—if you really love Kevin Smith, you’re going to see this no matter what. And you may even be mildly entertained. Butwhile you’re watching, imagine what you might have seen if Kevin Smith hadn’t sold out to a $20-plus million budget from Miramax. Hey, it’s possible that in four years, he’ll tell the press how he’s ashamed of this one, just as he is of Mallrats, and be making films worthy of their own class at Georgetown. But I doubt it.

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