Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 14, 2010)
As I’ve noted elsewhere, I must admit that I developed a knee-jerk opposition to the work of Kevin Smith when he emerged on the scene with 1994’s Clerks. Years later, I’m not terribly sure why I felt that way; as I realized when I finally saw it in 1999, Clerks is actually a very fine film. But I thought what I thought; at least I ultimately was able to recognize the error of my opinions.
Since then, I’ve turned into a moderate Smith fan. I like his flicks - most of them, at least - and appreciate his humor. 1999’s Dogma was the first Smith flick I saw theatrically; I experienced its predecessors only on DVD. However, I became more of a fan after that fall 1999 screening of Dogma, which means that 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back enjoyed another unique distinction: it was the first Smith flick I actually looked forward to seeing.
Man, was it a disappointment! While I thought the movie had its good parts, I felt a lot of it just plodded along with little purpose or momentum. It seemed to try too hard to be wacky and clever, and much of it simply appeared to fall flat. It wasn’t as bad as the nearly-humor-free Mallrats, but I found it to be a weak film.
However, I knew that I needed to see it again, if just because I really did have pretty high expectations for Silent Bob. Many times in the past, I’ve been less than enamored with movies I hotly anticipated. As such, it seemed possible that this one would fall into that club.
Indeed, that was exactly the case. Now that I’ve seen Silent Bob a few times, I definitely feel more positively toward the flick. The cutesy title of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back isn’t just another gratuitous Star Wars reference on the part of Smith, however. It actually makes a lot of sense within the context of the plot, such that it is. Silent Bob isn’t exactly what we’d consider to be a story-heavy movie, but it does feature a loose narrative.
After a brief prologue in which we see how Jay (Jason Mewes) and Bob (Smith) came to know each other, we find a tragic event in the boys’ lives. Tired of their shenanigans in front of the Quick Stop, video clerk Randall (Jeff Anderson) sics the cops on them and also puts out a restraining order against them. This means Jay and Bob can no longer loiter there, which renders their lives meaningless.
However, they soon adopt a new cause when they stop by the comic book store owned by Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee). He points out that Miramax is making a movie based on the “Bluntman and Chronic” comic book. Its lead characters are in turn based on Jay and Silent Bob, but they’ve not seen a nickel of the Hollywood moolah. After a visit to “Bluntman” creator Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck), they discover that he no longer holds the rights; he sold them to former “Bluntman” inker Banky Edwards (Jason Lee).
Holden also turns them on to the Internet, where within movie forums they discover scads of negative comments about their alter egos. Enraged by this, they swear to stop the film so no one will make more nasty statements about their fictional selves.
And so begins the road movie. Jay and Silent Bob take to the highways and eventually hook up with a team of sexy bad girls who allegedly form an animal rights organization. Jay falls in love with Justice (Shannon Elizabeth), who tries to keep the boys out of harm’s way, but the others - Sissy (Eliza Dushku), Chrissy (Ali Larter), and Missy (Jennifer Schwalbach, Smith’s real-life wife) - force her to sucker them into being patsies.
In time, the boys steal an orangutan, Jay sees the love of his life explode, they run from the law, and eventually make it to Hollywood. There they attempt to enact their plan. A ridiculous amount of shenanigans ensue.
“Ridiculous” was probably the best word to describe Silent Bob, at least based on my first screening. I thought the movie started really well but became bogged down with silliness. It seemed just a little too gratuitously absurd, and some of the gags got old quickly; for example, on a few occasions, the performers will make comments along the lines of “who’d want to see that?” and they’ll slowly turn to face the audience. This worked once, but Smith milked it too much.
However, most of the parts I thought were dopey seemed less egregious during the second screening. I could still live without the orangutan bits, and the movie does seem too long. Smith could have chopped out parts of it and made it tighter, though as we’ll see in the extended deleted scenes area, he already did lose tons of footage.
I could criticize Silent Bob for its self-indulgence, but that would miss the point. The film is supposed to be self-indulgent; as Smith notes in the audio commentary, it’s one of the most “inside” films ever created, as you have to know four other flicks for it to make much sense. Silent Bob made about $30 million, which may not sound like much, but considering that the movie was essentially a cult film meant as a form of love letter to Smith’s biggest fans, even that modest total seems surprisingly high.
Silent Bob was likely aided in that regard by its truly star-studded cast. We get Hollywood hunks like regular Smith collaborators Affleck and Matt Damon and the aforementioned sexy babes as well as folks like Chris Rock, Seann William Scott, and about a trillion cameos. Silent Bob features so many actors who return from earlier View Askew productions that the absences occasionally become more notable that than the actual participants.
Anyway, all the actors are very game to live up - or down - to the movie’s irreverent and absurd tone. Affleck proves more than willing to make himself the brunt of many jokes; you’ll rarely see an actor more willing to mock his own repertoire, though Armageddon goes surprisingly unmentioned. The others have a lot of fun as well, though few so directly laugh at their own work. Chris Rock stands out as hilariously race-conscious director, and most of the performers make their usually brief appearances count.
Perhaps the most impressive acting comes from Jason Mewes, however. No, he doesn’t display a great deal of range - De Niro need not worry - but if you watch all the View Asked flicks, you’ll see a very definite positive progression for his talents. He made the most improvement with Dogma, but here he demonstrates a reasonable capacity to lead a film. Mewes has gone from being an annoying one-note stoner gag to becoming a fairly engaging and compelling presence.
Silent Bob virtually begs you to watch it repeated times. It packs in so many pop culture references that it seems unlikely you’ll get them all the first time - or the second, probably. Some of these hit the mark, while others fall flat; the Scooby Doo bit seems pointless to me. Still, most of them work reasonably well, and they add something to the flick. Much of the time, these kinds of pieces exist just to seem clever, whereas Smith builds them into the film more effectively and neatly.
The film also provides some of the most gleefully raunchy dialogue you’re likely to hear. When we first see adult Jay and Bob, the former performs a rap that consists almost entirely of profanity. Most movies of this sort just seem vulgar and unpleasant, but Smith raises the genre to an art form. There’s a fun spark to what he does, and that comes across. It’s simultaneously gratuitous and essential, if that makes any sense.
While it’s not my favorite View Askew production, Silent Bob stands above its predecessors in one regard: its visual sense. Smith has often been criticized for his stiffness as a filmmaker, but Silent Bob offers a noticeably improved dimensionality. Unlike every prior Smith flick, this one actually has some impressive visual sequences that remain memorable. Both the jewel robbery and the bong-saber battle actually work well as action pieces. Smith will never be a superior visual director, but he’s clearly improved significantly in that regard, or at least he’s started to hire people who know how to make the movies look better.
During the audio commentary, Smith describes Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back as a film about “a little guy and a fat guy running around putting on silly outfits and maintaining they’re not gay”. You know what? That’s a pretty good synopsis. Silent Bob clearly won’t be for everyone, but it remains a pretty funny and entertaining piece that works well upon rescreenings; it didn’t do much for me the first time, but I liked it a lot during subsequent viewings. Like every Kevin Smith film, it’s an inconsistent flick, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.