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Reviews Askew: The Films of Kevin Smith
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, ©

Format: Movie
By:   Kevin Smith (Writer, Director)
Genre:   Comedy
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   7/10 and 8/10 and 9/10 and 8/10 (What Is This?)

Kevin Smith's four films, Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma, are very popular with bunches of genre fans. I think part of the reason why is that director / writer / actor Kevin Smith, who also plays Silent Bob, is one of us. He's outed himself as a geek of movies, comics, and pop culture in general. Like Quentin Tarantino, but with less blood, he puts a creative stamp on a film that attracts us to it.

These brief reviews will be an attempt to review the films on their own merits or lack thereof, rather than merely cataloguing the references, using Jay's catch-phrases, or talking about how cool Silent Bob is. To do this, we must take certain facts about Smith films to be evident:

1) There are lots of pop-culture references.
2) Jay has lots of catch phrases.
3) Silent Bob is cool.

Now let's move on.

Clerks

Smith's first film is a day-in-the-life story of a guy who works at a convenience store. Smith did the same thing in his youth, and the movie is a comedy about being a 20something guy with a crap job. Many of us can relate. The lead character has a problem taking responsibility for his own actions -- and the movie actually calls him on it.

The movie was critically noted, and everyone mentioned that it was dialogue-intensive, as if they'd never heard of such a thing before. Imagine: a script where people say interesting things! The actors aren't standard Hollywood types, and the movie just looks different. It's black and white, and looks and feels more like a film student project. Which is a bad thing in some movies -- but not here. There's good comedy here, physical and verbal.

This film established a tone for Smith's characters. While they fill the roles they are assigned as protagonist, sidekick, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc., have more depth than that. Alternately, they swear, smoke, drink, bitch, play video games, and watch porn. When his movies are at their height of unreality, you still feel like you went to college with some of these people.

Revolution Rating: 7/10

Mallrats

The success of Clerks got Kevin Smith the money to make Mallrats, and he made the hell out of it. This movie follows two guys with girl trouble, who follow their girlfriends to the mall.

Mallrats gets a bad rap, not only from Smith fans, but from Smith himself -- he apologized for it in the credits of Chasing Amy. I really don't understand why. It's an '80s-style slobs vs. snobs comedy, like Revenge of the Nerds or Porky's. It even looks like it, including the "what happened after the movie ended" freeze-framed postscripts for all the characters. It's more laugh-out-loud funny than Clerks in the same way -- the comedy and situations are further over-the-top. Which I don't see as a bad thing.

The script continues in the Clerks vein in that, in conversation, people actually talk like real people talk. They don't speak only to move the plot along. They exchange opinions, ideas, rants. They talk about things they're interested in.

Jay and Silent Bob were bit players in Clerks, but step up here as supporting characters.

Smith's films are sometimes lumped in with boneheaded Adam Sandler or gross-out Tom Green-style comedies, and that's unjust. While Smith's characters swear like sailors, there's no sense that the creators were going "hee hee hee! We just said "poopie!"" like in Sandler's movies. And there's no grossness for the mere dumb sensation of it. The swearing is just how some people talk, and you can tell that there's at least some conscious thought behind it all.

Mallrats is just good, silly fun.

Revolution Rating: 8/10

Chasing Amy

While Mallrats was Smith's take on slobs vs. snobs, Chasing Amy took on the relationship comedy. The establishment of the film's characters takes place at a comic book convention. Every truth about cons and the fans in attendance is laid out onscreen. It's funny because it's true, every bit of it. But Smith makes the scenes funny and accessible. You don't have to know a thing about comics to enjoy this part of the film.

Jay and Silent Bob are here, too. They establish the movie's title in a brief scene.

The twist to the script is that the lead guy, played by Ben Affleck, falls in love with a lesbian, played by Joey Lauren Adams. Like in other Smith movies, detailed facts are used to add depth and context. Here, there's a graphic discussion of how things work in a lesbian sexual relationship.

Your standard relationship movies generally have some flowery talk, lots of puppy-dog gazing into each other's eyes, and then heavy petting and fadeout (or graphic sex, depending on the kind of movie you're watching). But films have a way of -- well, the best way to put it is romanticizing love. Every look, every word, is supposed to make audiences swoon. Then, the usual breakup-before-the-makeup scene is there for the girl to pout, then cry into her hands, while the guy looks sleepy.

Not so in Chasing Amy. Affleck and Adams play their characters' feelings for each other like real people do. When Affleck expresses his love to Adams, (which, by definition, she can't return), their scene is angry, tense, and hurtful.

Let me add, though, that the funny parts are still there, and they're good. The ultimate resolution to the film's dilemma -- you're not going to see it coming, I'll tell you that much.

I'd like to think that relationship movies will learn something from this film. But as long as Meg Ryan is alive and perky, that's not going to happen.

Revolution Rating: 9/10

Dogma

Clerks was about Smith's job, Mallrats was about comedy that he grew up on, Chasing Amy was about relationships in his life. This one is about religion. Like Mallrats and Amy took on a specific genre, this movie is Smith's action flick.

It's about a woman (Linda Fiorentino) with fallen faith, who is chosen to stop the world from ending at the hands of two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon). Jay and Silent Bob become supporting characters in the quest.

I think it's Ben Affleck's and Matt Damon's best film. Good Will Hunting got them their break, and they immediately became Hollywood's golden boys, starring in movies left and right, many of them hits, but with spotty, spotty quality. Neither man has ever seemed to really be enjoying himself anywhere except here.

Sometimes Smith won't let scenes speak for themselves. Here, a lot of exposition is required, and much is given. You really have to listen. In other Smith films, it's no different, and I'm not going back on my earlier statement that dialogue-intensive movies are a good thing.

Taken as an action flick, the movie has everything you need: the great quest, fight scenes, the good guys give up, then they decide to fight on, and the happy resolution. This time, guest-starring God.

The movie is neither anti-Catholicism nor anti-religion. I was not offended by the appearance of God. The movie is pro-faith, and unashamedly so, without apologizing for the way it feels, and without being clammy or preachy.

Revolution Rating: 8/10


Joe Crowe is News and Humor Editor for RevolutionSF.

 
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