Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
It's certainly stupid, but is it art?
Kevin Smith is possibly the most simultaneously celebrated and most reviled film maker active, as any attempt to silence his critics provokes a whole host of new pot-shots. If you're not already a Smith fan, this will do nothing to convert you. If you are, this is a hoot, is what it is.
Some producer gave Smith $30 million and he used it to make a film revolving around the most one dimensional characters that have fallen out of his warped ol' mind. It contains appearances of nigh on everyone that appeared in his previous films. It is a self serving, ego stroking critic's nightmare of a movie, containing jokes that can't be understood without seeing all Smiths' previous stuff, goofish turns to the camera and random cameos serving as Hollywood in jokes. Apparently this can be excused if you happen to be Robert Altman, but for relative whippersnappers such as Smith is a crime fit for lynching if the critics are to be believed.
The film's plot, such as it is, concerns the making of the Bluntman and Chronic film, based on Jay and Bob's characters. This has been slandered on the internet, risking the hard fought street credibility of the hapless pair, so they set off to remedy this injustice by travelling to Hollywood to stop the film. It's a thin plot to base a movie on, but there have been many thinner. Smith himself admits that this was a response to the many criticisms based on Dogma's pretensions to having, y'know, themes and any kind of message. So he wrote a 100 minute dick, fart and gay joke movie.
This has an obvious potential for back firing badly. Essentially juvenile humour can be difficult to script and execute, especially after the well being drained with the American Pie, Scary Movie et al franchises. Thankfully the script never becomes too tired and is considerably elevated by the casts' performances. Jason Mewes, playing Jay for those who don't know, would have to be one of the finest comedic character actors in the world to make this film work, or have the good fortune to be playing himself. People came to this movie to see Jay, and his over the top performance of crude lines. It works through sheer force of personality. For a character that rarely speaks, Kevin Smith's performance as Silent Bob more than achieves everything it needs to. It is vital these characters work, or the movie fails totally. They do not particularly progress from the minor caricatures of the previous films, but this film never claims to be a journey of self-discovery, merely a journey.
It is a scientifically proven fact that any film can be improved by the addition of Will Ferrell, although I can't back that up with paperwork. His performance here as Marshall Willenholly is masterful, and shows he is one of the finest comedic character actors in the world. Ferrell plays dumb to perfection, and steals some of the best non-Jay lines. Jason Lee reprises his roles as Mallrats' Brodie and Chasing Amy's Banky for his brief appearances. Ben Affleck shows up both as Holden from Chasing Amy and later as himself, along with Matt Damon, annoying me by making me appreciate he may in fact not be a complete muppet by showing a degree of willingness to send himself up. The actor playing dual roles may prove strange for people not following the last four films, as there is visually little to distinguish Affleck in both roles, people just have to get used to him now being Ben rather that Holden. At least Lee gets to hide behind a beard later in the film when he pulls double duty.
There's a list of cameos as long as your arm, Carrie Fisher, George Carlin, Judd Nelson, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, Seann William Scott and an excellent turn from Mark Hamill as Bluntman's arch enemy, Cock-Knocker. This will either seem to be totally self-indulgent and irritating or quite a good laugh depending on your views, and possibly your mood.
The film fires along at breakneck speed, an intentional move on Smith's part to address critics who have said the previous films take too long to get going. It works well, the few jokes which fall flat are quickly glossed over with something else. This distracts attention from the cinematography, which is fortunate because it's lousy. With the exception of Bluntman's Bluntcave, the locations and sets are bland and uninteresting. This really only becomes noticeable on repeated viewing, there is certainly enough to keep your mind otherwise occupied.
My only real bugbear in Kevin Smith's work is the dialogue, which on occasion resembles no natural speech pattern known to man. Or this man at any rate. Clerks is particularly irritating in this respect, with lots of admittedly funny, well observed dialogue which suffers from never really sounding as though it was meant to be spoken, but remain on a page to be read at leisure. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back manages to side-step this issue because Jay's puerile wigger ranting was never something this annoyance could be leveled at.
The soundtrack during the film is for the most part agreeable, but as the credits roll, Stroke 9 irritate us with 'Kick Some Ass', a reprehensible song, and Afroman punishes us with 'Because I Got High', which is an irredeemable song.
I feel dirty for liking this film. I'm an old man. I should not be laughing at bad rapping about smoking blunts and sweaty balls. Monkeys should not be a source of endless amusement. Sexual organs are not there to be laughed at (no matter how bad the date goes). Yet still I do, and I know the feeling of shame.
There is nothing at all big or clever about this film. It is not high art. It has no pretensions as such. It's a light-hearted, knockabout, fast-paced slab of chaos which will do nothing at all to change anyone's opinion of Smith's work, but just because something is irreverent doesn't make it irrelevant.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
DVD notes - This film comes on a two disc 'collector's' edition from Dimension Home Video, although the 'collector's' part of that designation seems irrelevant given that it is the only edition that has appeared, to my knowledge - does this make anyone with a passing interest in the film who bought it a collector? I suppose in a literal sense it does, but that's not really the fanboy-obsessive connotations that go with a collector. I digress.
The main feature has a commentary with Kevin Smith and editor/producer Scott Mosier, and Jason Mewes sitting stoned in the corner mumbling inaudibly at points. It's fairly entertaining but nothing of any great interest or insight is added to the movie, but as is pointed out during the commentary, it is a very simple film. There is no great insight to it, just dick jokes.
Disc two gives us a whole bunch of deleted scenes (thirty odd), with introductions from Kevin Smith and various others, normally Mewes. The introductions are normally several times longer than the outtakes, with only three or four that were cut out due to rating/gay pressure group involvement really being amusing enough to feel like they ought to be in the movie. The rest are filler, but not terribly lengthy filler. A gag reel is provided, which is amusing but at the end of the day reduces to a bunch of people screwing up lines and laughing, and is unlikely to be viewed more than once.
There is a behind the scenes documentary of dubious interest and a light and fluffy Comedy Central feature of no interest. The videos for the Afroman and Stroke 9 songs are present because I've been a bad boy. A Cast and Crew filmographies, storyboards and a history of Morris Day and the Time round off the disk. Unless I've gone blind or inept the case advertises a special effects feature and doesn't deliver on it.
While on one level I can appreciate the effort gone into the extra stuff here, it doesn't really deliver on quality. The deleted scenes could easily fit on disc one along with the commentary and the remnants of the other disc binned. Obviously, none of this detracts from the film itself, but it ultimately doesn't add anything to it either.
Kevin Smith (Silent Bob)
Shannon Elizabeth (Justice)
Will Ferrell (Willenholly)
Ben Affleck (Holden / Himself)
Jason Lee (Banky / Brodie)
Chris Rock (Chaka Luther King)