This is it. The Kevin Smith retrospective has reached it’s end… finally. Sorry for the delays, given other articles and life in general have kept this going for quite sometime. As a result, the next Retrospective Reviews may be a bit more brief than the more elaborate mini-reviews. Anyway, the main course here are the latest films in Smith’s canon. All of these were produced at the start of this new decade, which doesn’t look bright for Kevin for my own personal taste. But let’s elaborate on that.
2/22/16: Cop Out (Re-Watch)
Cop Out is the first of Kevin Smith’s directorial efforts to not be written by him. It’s yet another attempt from Smith to diversify his portfolio, giving him a chance to handle someone else’s material and craft a studio action comedy that heavily emphasizes on action rather than stagnant camera set ups. It’s unfortunate that said film is the definite low point of Smith’s filmmaking career. An attempted throw back to lesser Beverly Hills Cop clones of the 80s, Cop Out has the rhythm and pace of a cop comedy thrown into a paper shredder, with jokes awkwardly edited to the point of never landing a punchline and action sequences where not a single shot feels coherent enough to feel invested in. Much of this stems from our completely uninteresting leads Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis, who have little to no chemistry despite informing us the entire time that they’ve been friends for roughly a decade. The dialogue’s exposition heavy nature is a crutch to attempt to get us invested in what Morgan’s indistinguishable yelling and Willis’ robotic delivery can’t convince us is an actual partnership. There’s also such a reliance on underwritten cop film cliches and unenjoyable characters stumbling around this surprisingly cluttered story that feels extremely unnecessary as it wastes people like Kevin Pollack & Adam Brody as the secondary “asshole cops” partners or Guillermo Diaz as an underwhelming “wacky” villain. It all just ends up being a major failure of a crime film, a buddy movie and an action picture on every level.
Rating: 1 out of 5 Poorly Constructed Action Sequences
2/22/16: Red State (Re-Watch)
Of all the various attempts from Kevin Smith to revamp his career, Red State was his most ambitious and diverging stab. While the opening bits with our teenage characters evokes memories of the foul mouthed antics of Jay & Silent Bob, the majority of the film is a tension filled exercise of a thriller with religious connotations. Obviously, the cult featured here is extremely similar to the existing Westboro Baptist Church, as Smith was never shy about mentioning his direct inspiration, including in the film itself. That’s one of the more disappointing aspects of the film’s attempted dark satire, cutting off the Fred Phelps comparisons at the knee for what feels like a hasty attempt at not getting sued. When Red State is at its biggest stride during the first half, it’s a solidly tense thriller that barks directly at the extremes of religion, government meddling and human apathy in general. It’s grimy and dark in a way that puts everyone’s fate at stake, including bigger leads that carry the weight of the material like John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Stephen Root. Of course, the majority of that is embodied by underrated character actor Michael Parks as the leader of this cult, showcasing a grandfatherly southern charm and veracious hatred that melds seamlessly. Yet, as the film plods along, it seems like Smith’s bag of tricks thin out. The sudden bouts of violence and shaky camera cinematography grow stale and Parks’ preachings become more and more repetitive as regurgitated Phelps madness. Then the ending approaches, an ending that was Smith’s apparent second choice and it shows. It’s sudden in a way that tries very hard to ape the nihilism of The Coen Brothers, but feels more like a hastily cobbled together mixture of force comeuppance and blatant vapid descriptions to the camera that ring hollow after disconnecting the Westboro Baptist Church from all this. Still, a solid try for creeping out of his comfort zone.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Cult Followers
Jay and Silent Bob’s Groovy Cartoon Movie breaks the trends of this retrospective for a lot of reasons: it’s animated, it’s not directed by Kevin Smith himself (as he’s merely a writer, producer & co-star) and it’s not really even a feature film. What it is is a poorly cobbled together masturbatory exercise for Smith as a creative talent, poorly sewing together the threads of a story ripped from a comic book he wrote over a decade ago that revels in dick, fart and weed jokes for about an hour. Now, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem if any of the jokes hit, especially for someone who’s well versed enough in Smith’s film, television and podcast work to get the many in jokes like myself. I did get those jokes… they just weren’t funny. Said jokes are implemented in this stiff, lifeless animation from director Steven Stark, who worked better when animating Smith’s stream of consciousness conversational tone for short web videos than he does here, where the bits are extended endlessly and really only hinge on either annoying recognition or a repetitive visual. Even worse, so much of Kevin Smith’s casual bitterness is on full display here, with bits about the death of Internet back talkers and a song with a title “Fuck a Critic In The Mouth.” It would be one thing if either of these were genuinely humorous or well constructed gags or lyrics, but they’re rather bluntly hateful and kind of sad, showing Smith’s seeming inability to get over the intense criticism of films like Cop Out. This sort of thing doesn’t offend someone attempting to critique Smith’s work like myself, but it bums me out that a guy I used to respect has to resort to rather lower level bullying that are about as cheap as any of the other gags. It seems like Smith’s fan base is enabling him to make stuff like this and it seems pretty detrimental to anyone trying to join in on the fanbase if this is the kind of bile it produces.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 Horrendous Flash Animations
2/26/16: Tusk (Re-Watch)
The latest Kevin Smith effort Tusk is a showcase for everything that Smith has become over the course of these last few years. The lack of concern for what anyone thinks reached critical mass with this story of a man being turned into a damn walrus, which would in theory be an interesting horror comedy project. Unfortunately, it all ends up being a tedious exercise in both, where the comedy puts dull characters to task so the horror can punish them in odd ways. Justin Long in particular is stuck with this role where we’re supposed to hate him, but he’s not intriguing enough to make his punishment worth watching. Nor is it that exciting to see Genesis Rodriguez & Haley Joel Osment chase after him, particularly when they enlist a mugging Inspector Clouseau-esque Johnny Depp giving probably the worst performance of his career. Smith also makes some rather bizarrely unfortunate choices with his directorial style, whether it be the incredibly over barring lighting or the awful musical choices. It’s especially sad that all of this stuff clutters the film’s best strengths, like Michael Parks’ genuinely seething performance or Robert Kurtzman’s well designed walrus suit. I give Smith credit for the ambition of producing something that doesn’t exist, but maybe this didn’t exist for a reason.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Fake Johnny Depp Noses
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