Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2020)
Introduced as supporting characters in 1995’s seminal Clerks, we last saw Jay and Silent Bob in a live-action film via 2006’s Clerks II. 13 years later, they return as the stars of 2019’s Jay & Silent Bob Reboot.
Back in 2001, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) set out to stop the production of Bluntman & Chronic, a film that used characters based on them. 18 years later, Hollywood decides to relaunch the series and create another B&C flick.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t sit well with Jay and Bob. Upset once more at this infringement, they embark on another crusade to sabotage production, with some personal complications along the way when Jay reconnects with ex-lover Justice (Shannon Elizabeth).
When Smith created Strike Back, he intended it as his farewell to the “View Askewniverse”, the little world he launched with Clerks in 1994. Between Clerks and Strike Back, this became the setting for three films: 1995’s Mallrats, 1997’s Chasing Amy and 1999’s Dogma.
Because Smith didn’t want to feel boxed in as a filmmaker, he chose Strike Back as a grand finale before he moved onto different cinematic horizons. 2004’s Jersey Girl acted as this first step away from the View Askewniverse.
Unfortunately, Jersey Girl became a flop – and a notorious one at that. In the face of this failure, Smith immediately retreated to the safety of his old pals with Clerks II.
In the decade-plus since Clerks II, Smith has mainly made movies that didn’t involve the VA, so I don’t want to paint that 2006 flick as a total retreat. Indeed, Reboot acts as only the second live-action VA feature since Clerks II.
However, I feel like the resounding failure of Jersey Girl and subsequent bad experiences like his time as “director for hire” on 2010’s Cop Out broke something in Smith. Over the last 15 years, he feels like a shell of himself, one who often comes across as bitter.
Strike Back offered a complete piece of fan service, a collection of inside jokes and self-references that would only work for the VA faithful. However, it still showed a lot of spark and energy, so despite its inherent limitations, it entertained.
Nearly 20 years later, Reboot fails to create the same impact. Whereas Strike Back acted as an affectionate farewell to beloved characters, Reboot feels more like a desperate attempt to recapture a long gone sense of creativity.
I freely admit that I enter Smith films with a wholly different attitude than I did in 2001 – or even 2010. I really liked and admired Smith for many years, as I found him to provide a witty, intelligent presence.
This changed over time, as Smith seemed to get lazier and less willing to challenge himself. Sure, he took on some unusual projects – like the horror movie Red State - he just didn’t show the same insight and depth as he did during his earlier days.
This felt especially true with his comedies, as those relied on the same old same old. Smith’s nadir came with 2016’s Yoga Hosers, a virtually unwatchable effort.
While Reboot never sinks to that film’s depths, it nonetheless proves much more depressing than entertaining. Essentially a lazy attempt to recreate Strike Back, it prompts no laughs and little entertainment.
Of course, Smith allows himself the ability to claim the similarities between Strike Back and Reboot act as part of the joke. Because Reboot attempts to mock Hollywood’s obsession with renewed franchises, Smith can trot out the same story and many of the same jokes and pretend that this exists as commentary.
I don’t buy it. I think Smith recycles the same formula and gags because he didn’t want to bother to write anything new. Hey, they laughed in 2001 – they’ll laugh now, right?
Perhaps some will, but I didn’t. Strike Back got by on its irreverence, and the comedic bits felt clever enough to prompt guffaws.
Smith finds virtually no new ground with Reboot. He piles on the cameos and relies on a slew of rehashed jokes to fill time.
All of this seems tired and downright annoying. For instance, the guest stars amused 18 years ago, partly because they came as a surprise. Now we expect them, and they all seem gratuitous more than anything else.
It doesn’t help that others executed the “celebrity self-mocking” style better in the years since 2001. Ricky Gervais’s Extras excelled in this regard, so Smith’s recycled winking at the camera comes across as trite and ineffective.
None of the actors seem very excited to be there – even the ones who barely appear for a minute or two – and our lead actors prove relentlessly annoying. Never the most natural performers, Smith and Mewes completely abandoned any attempts at subtlety over the years, and that damages Reboot.
Honestly, I think Mewes and Smith have played these characters for so long that they simply rely on broad gestures. Although the script attempts to give them added depth – especially for Jay – they seem unwilling or unable to do anything with their roles.
As a result, Mewes and Smith rarely give us more than wide gestures. They mug at the camera non-stop and actively annoy.
In another stab at cleverness, Smith plays two roles, as he also appears as “Kevin Smith”, the director of the Bluntman reboot. This means he portrays a stereotypical version of himself.
I guess - Smith is such a self-parody these days that I can’t really tell the difference. Like the others, he attempts to make fun of himself, but it doesn’t work, mainly due to the limp nature of the material.
The 90s Smith could always be counted on for witty, insightful material. Even when he got smutty/profane – which he did a lot – he brought intelligence and heart to the work.
The 00s/10s Smith largely seems unable to achieve this anymore, and this decline becomes horribly apparent in Reboot. Even with a hackneyed attempt to make this a story of maturity, it remains a stale collection of dated smut jokes that goes beyond self-parody into a realm of profound sadness.
Footnote: deleted footage runs all through the end credits.