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Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

The Mag: Lunatic fringe

August 23, 2001

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Lunatic fringe

'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back' marks a fitting sendoff for geeky franchise characters

By Loey Lockerby

mag@ljworld.com

Kevin Smith is one of those directors people either adore or despise. His fans happily recite entire passages from his movies on cue (albeit not in polite company), while his detractors think he's a juvenile hack whose work undermines the moral fabric of society.

"Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" won't change any of this in the slightest. This film is practically a love letter from Smith to his fans, a way of wrapping up the saga that began seven years ago with "Clerks." As usual, he couldn't care less what anyone else thinks.

For the uninitiated, Jay and Silent Bob are the odd-couple pair who've had supporting roles in all of Smith's films to date (including, "Chasing Amy," "Dogma" and "Mallrats"). Jay (Jason Mewes) is a stunningly foul-mouthed delinquent who never shuts up. Bob (Smith) is basically his sidekick, who rarely speaks (hence the nickname), but whose facial expressions convey more intelligent commentary than his buddy could ever begin to manage.

While hanging out in their New Jersey hometown, Jay and Silent Bob learn that a comic book based on them is being turned into a movie, and they aren't going to see a penny from it. Even worse, the Internet is abuzz with people ridiculing them and the film. Incensed, Jay decides to go to Hollywood and put a stop to the production, hoping that will shut up the online attackers (he obviously doesn't know much about the Internet).

The rest of the story concerns the duo's highly eventful road trip to California, which, true to Smith's "Star Wars" obsession, culminates in a light-saber duel with actor Mark Hamill.

Smith has said that this will be the last movie featuring Jay and Silent Bob, and it plays like a kind of lunatic family reunion. Nearly everyone who has ever been in a Kevin Smith film appears here, from the "Clerks" guys (Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson) to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. The fans even make their own sort of cameo, as Smith constantly draws attention to both Internet geekdom and the people sitting in the audience. This will have many casual viewers scratching their heads, but it's heaven for the film's target audience.

As he frequently does, Smith overreaches a bit here, dragging some scenes out too long and repeating himself too often. He always does his best work when he gets to the point -- a single, stream-of-consciousness rant from Jay is much more amusing than lengthy sequences involving bumbling cops and people dressed like "Scooby-Doo" characters. In fact, the pacing of "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is extremely erratic, going from side-splitting to boring and back again. This is partly because Smith isn't so much making a movie as he is simply referencing other movies (including his own). That's a pretty shaky foundation on which to build an entire feature, and it puts this film a slight step below some of Smith's earlier work. It's a credit to his considerable talent that it remains as funny as it is.

And it is funny, as long as you're not easily offended (or capable of being offended, actually). Smith once again pushes the limits of the R rating and succeeds in upsetting another special interest group. Last time, it was conservative Catholics calling "Dogma" anti-religious; this time, it's GLAAD calling "Jay and Silent Bob" homophobic.

It's up to viewers to decide whether those labels are accurate or not, but what can't be disputed is Smith's gift for razor-sharp dialogue and surprisingly astute satire -- he ranks with the makers of "South Park" in his ability to sneak intelligent ideas into scripts filled with sex and fart jokes.

Smith's primary targets this time are Hollywood and the Internet subculture, which are admittedly easy to ridicule, although few filmmakers have done it with such savage accuracy. It helps that his stars are willing to poke fun at themselves (Damon and Affleck have a field day) and that Smith himself isn't exempt from attack. In fact, his mandates for this film seem to be "have fun" and "don't take yourself too seriously."

That's good advice for everyone, on screen and off.

-- The Mag can be reached at 832-7178.

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