As I explained in our previous entry, this is part two of my journey back through the Kevin Smith filmography. While the first third saw us find Smith’s initial spark, this second part shows the gradual start of decline and self indulgence that’s made Smith the filmmaker we know now. But we’ll save that for next time.
2/20/16: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Re-Watch)
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a fan service movie. Kevin Smith managed to get $22 million to pander to the universe he created and the fans he had amassed for one final film in the View Askewniverse. That’s objectively what the movie is and it never shies away from it. But, even with those meager goals, Smith’s pandering isn’t that funny, even for someone like myself who gets all the references and understands the continuity of this world. What worked about that continuity is less that it hinged exclusively on that referencing, only adding a tapestry that gives more of a sense of community to his films. Community that ends up being used for cheap referencing material here, which becomes more and more cringeworthy. Jay and Silent Bob worked as side characters who delivered fun levity, but as leads their schtick resembles more of the Mallrats style of ill-timed slapstick. Jason Mewes himself is endearing enough to save lesser bits, but Smith’s Silent Bob mugging, overused gay jokes or even his early screed against critics that was the climax. The cavalcade of supporting characters end up being the most uneven batch, from the one note jewel thieve characters that includes our annoying love interest or the endless cameos, the best of which involves Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as themselves shooting a scene from the fictional Good Will Hunting 2. It’s a heavily mixed bag, but the vibrant cinematography of Jamie Anderson and the best efforts of Mewes & some of the side characters help give this a decent enough live action cartoon. But it’s ultimately an early sign of the kind of indulgence that would severely cripple Smith’s career.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Bongsabers
2/20/16: Jersey Girl (Re-Watch)
Jersey Girl signaled a potential big change for Smith’s career. Tossing aside the universe he had dabbled in, Smith sought to make a mark as a more commercial and varied director who didn’t need Jay and Silent Bob. Of course, he didn’t plan on the massive backlash of his star Ben Affleck and on-screen/off-screen romantic desire Jennifer Lopez that serious hurt the film’s chances of succeeding. Yet, removed from any of that context, it’s not that horrible a film. It’s just kind of generic, but in an oddly respectable way. Feeling like a far more mainstream dramedy, it’s a solid step in the right direction for Smith in terms of diversifying his portfolio as a director. There’s a few turns of phrase in the dialogue that feel familiar to his more foul tendencies, but when limited the genuine sincerity shines through in these archetypal, yet likable characters. This is especially true of George Carlin as Affleck’s blue collar father and Raquel Castro as the adorable and authentic titular child. Still, the sincerity only goes so far to make up for the bigger cloying moments of the movie, particularly Affleck’s chase to the school play, Liv Tyler’s entire character and the return to the record industry subplot that drags to “Disney Dad” style trope of an overworking dad that all feel like a screenwriting convention rather than the intriguing choices Smith used to make. Still, it isn’t nearly the low point for Smith’s career as claimed at the time of release.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Rented Porn Tapes
2/21/16: Clerks II (Re-Watch)
A circular return to the film that started his career feels only natural for Kevin Smith to due to truly close off the View Askewniverse he created. Deciding to tap back into the lives of Dante and Randal has a lot of potential, seeing the slackers age into their 30s with more responsibilities and more cynicism to cloud their judgment. However, Clerks II feels more like a Mallrats than a maturing meditation on age and defying expectations that Smith wants to be. In between a few surprisingly emotional scenes is a tonally confused comedy that relies on poorly attempting to update the pop culture conversations and broken taboos of the work place to heights that are somehow less believable than the incredibly goofy Clerks: The Animated Series. Dante is a rather skeezy unlikable jerk, showing little to no progression as a person up until the climax that makes him rather unwatchable as a protagonist, not helped by Brian O’Halloran’s stiffer deliver that also shows a stagnation in his performance level. Jeff Anderson’s Randal isn’t that much better, but his issues mostly center around the monologues given to him by Smith to spew that are far less funny and drag on endlessly. The elaborate set pieces and comedic dialogue rarely work, showing early signs of Smith’s inability to edit his films with a solid amount of restraint. The only consistent characters really are Jay & Silent Bob with a few more creative choices to accommodate Jason Mewes’ sobriety and Rosario Dawson as the down to earth love interest who’s caring attitude & charming delivery somehow make her scenes with O’Halloran believable. However, Clerks II ultimately suffers from talking down to the premise it establishes, saying that this advanced form of immaturity is fine with the additional fiscal responsibility the duo ultimately assumes. It hurts even more when the potential peaks through for the emotional arcs of Dante and Randal, as the more effective scenes are the ones where the two have an authentic sense of regret rather than making repetitive jokes about going ass to mouth or the term “porch monkey.” There’s a mature follow up to Clerks in Clerks II, but it gets lost in the stagnation of Smith’s comedic filmmaking ability.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Mooby’s Cow Tippers
2/22/16: Zack & Miri Make A Porno (Re-Watch)
Given its limited impact on the box office and second false start for Kevin Smith’s new career, Zack And Miri Make a Porno gets lost in the shuffle in terms of his filmography. Smith himself has admitted that he saw the film as his attempt to recreate the success of Judd Apatow films, a director who clearly has Smith as an influence on his work. There are clear moments where those tendencies pop out, mainly with minor elements like Gerry Bednob clearly hired to recreate his role in The 40 Year Old Virgin or the the more long winded back and forths. Even Smith’s telegraphed lame comedy set pieces occasionally get in the way. Yet, his sincerity shines through far more here, mainly on the strength of its titular leads. Their struggle feels authentic and the stakes are high, as they attempt to get through a snowy winter with little resources. Yet, Zack and Miri find a very palpable connection through their friendship that believably blossoms into a romance, particularly with the tender chemistry between Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen that carries the film through its rough patches. Their foundation is thoroughly kept structurally sound by the supporting players though, from the reliably laid back antics of Craig Robinson to the bubbly fun of Katie Morgan to a gut busting small turn from Justin Long. Zack and Miri Make a Porno even serves as a fun parallel to the start of Smith’s career, shown through the excitement of the team making a movie in secret and at night in their workplace that mirrors the production of the first Clerks without ever being too cloying. There’s a genuine sense of comradery there that makes this dog and pony show feel authentic. It’s nothing mind altering, but it’s honestly more successful a reflection of can do spirit and finding happiness than Clerks II was. With all that in mind, Zack and Miri Make a Porno deserves to be called the “hidden gem” of Smith’s filmography.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Trash Compactor Monster Dildos