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Non-Review Review: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Jay and Silent Bob is a movie that runs hot and cold from scene to scene. More a collection of random jokes set against an ever-shifting premise than a fleshed-out over-arching story, the film frequently fluctuates between brilliantly and subversively hilarious, and just a little bit awkward. While the randomness of Kevin Smith’s original Clerks was a large part of the appeal, the mish-mash approach doesn’t work so well this time around. Part of it is, perhaps, that this movie does clearly have a plot (a roadtrip to Hollywood), but I think it might also be a question of the characters involved.

While Jay and Silent Bob work well in supporting roles, it seems perhaps a bit much to ask them to carry their own movie. It’s a criticism Smith seems to accept, even including it in the movie itself. “Bluntman and Chronic and their stupid alter egos Jay and Silent Bob only work in small doses, if at all,” an anonymous on-line “militant movie buff” writes about a fictious movie to star characters modelled on the pair. “They don’t deserve their own movie.”

Well, at least he’s self-aware.

The latest in the Jay and Silent Bob cycle?

Indeed, a large portion of the film’s more successful humour derives from that self-awareness. “A Jay and Silent Bob movie?” Holden McNeill asks. “Who would pay to see that?” At which point, everyone on screen awkwardly acknowledges the audience. Indeed, Smith has McNeill, the central character of Chasing Amy – perhaps his most person (and, in my opinion, best) work – whine about writing the same two stoner characters, time and time and time again. “Why in God’s name would I wanna keep writing about characters whose central preoccupation are weed and dick and fart jokes? I mean, ya gotta grow man.”

Not that you’d necessarily pick up that there’s a hint of the writer talking there, what with the insane number of “dick and fart jokes” the movie throws at us. There’s an entire section devoted to “the book” of hitchhiker guidelines (unwritten, of course), involving how a hitchhiker should express their gratitude to anyone picking them up, as articulated by George Carlin. The central villain of the fictitious movie based around Bluntman and Chronic is a character named Cock-Knocker, who fights with a dildo lightsaber. This is not the most sophisticated comedy you will ever see. Some of these elements work, quite a few end up falling flat on their face.

Ferrell out, man!

Being entirely honest, I suspect that a large amount of my enjoyment of this particular film stems from my pop culture knowledge. It’s been remarked that the more you know about the insider workings of Hollywood, the more you enjoy Tropic Thunder, and I think that works here too. It’s sometimes hard to divorce yourself from what you write about so frequently, but I wonder how many people get the line about casting the film. “It’s Miramax,” Holden (played by Ben Affleck) observes, “So I’m sure it’ll be Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They put those guys in a bunch of movies.” I imagine anybody coming into the cinema who doesn’t know that much about the studios in Hollywood, Smith’s career or those of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck will miss quite a few laughs that had me rolling in the aisles. On the other hand, some ideas, like Good Will Hunting II: Hunting Season are just so ingenious that they work outside of context. (“You’re just no longer any good, Will Huntingneeds to be a tagline… now!)

And I know that it makes me a hypocrite, given what I’ve just remarked, but the funniest line in the film has to be hearing Ben Affleck, as Holden McNeill, utter the line, “Affleck was da bomb in Phantoms!” Hilarious.

Similarly, Smith populates his movie with references to what came before. Some of these are incredibly subtle – for example, Jay and Silent Bob crashing the set of a Daredevil movie, given that Smith was a writer for the character. Some are non-intrusive – the presence of a Mooby’s, for example. Some are cheekily self-deprecating – “At least it was better than Mallrats,” one character observes of the film in question. Some are gleefully obscure – for example, the line “are you even supposed be here today?” said to Dante, echoing Clerks (and especially the original planned ending). To be fair, very few of these intrude on the movie, but they do add to an “insider” feeling which makes the movie much stronger for anyone with any familiarity with the director.

Affleck is a stellar sport...

Outside of that, Smith’s biggest hits don’t come from the cheap obscene jokes, but from some of the wickedly cheeky pop culture references. I especially like a very brief crossover with Scooby Doo, which features the immortal line from Shaggy, “The only real mystery here is why we take our cues from a dick in a neckerchief.” Later on, there’s a moment where the chubby Silent Bob tries to fit into a very tight hole, and Jay succeeds by pulling him through, “just like Winnie the Pooh.”

Indeed, it’s quite remarkable how well Smith lends himself to physical comedy. It’s easy to moss, what with all the sex jokes and ridiculously foul language, but it seems that the writer and director is very clearly inspired by old-school Hollywood comedies. In fairness, it shouldn’t seem like too much of a surprise, given the fact that one of his characters is the stoic Silent Bob, who communicates through charades and exaggerated gestures. There’s a definite hint of classical screwball comedy in their antics, from the way that Smith stages particular moments (as if to call to mind Looney Tunes or other such cartoons) through to the music choices. There are lots of quick cuts which emphasise action and movement, while characters are prone to do physically impossible things. It betrays a genuine affection for classic material that the audience might miss amidst all the controversy and filthy jokes.

Comic characters?

The only real problem with the film is that it simply can’t maintain tone consistently. It fluctuates between a quirky physical screwball comedy, an exaggerated road movie, a Hollywood satire, and an exercise in dick and fart jokes – but without any real way to tie it all together. A lot of the film ends up feeling almost episodic, as we laugh quite a bit at certain sequences, while others drag on. Perhaps the film tries to please everyone, but suffers from trying to fit so many different styles of comedy into one particular film.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the characters of Jay and Silent Bob can’t support a movie. Jay’s misogyny, poor education and aggressive personality work well when the character is part of a quirky ensemble, but they don’t work as attributes of a lead character – at least not in a film like this. There’s nothing wrong with Mewes’ performance, but the character isn’t strong enough to support a flimsy film built around him. Silent Bob works slightly better, because the character is immediately more charming, but the fact he never really gets any development or characterisation beyond “he somehow puts up with Jay” means that he can’t carry the film either.

Has Smith exhausted his Good Will?

That said, Smith has put together a fantastic cast. This is the first time Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have appeared in the same film since Star Wars. Affleck, Carlin, Chris Rock, Shannen Doherty and Jason Lee seem to be doing their “payback” picture for Smith, and seem to be genuinely enjoying it. Strong supporting roles go to cult actors like Judd Nelson, Jamie Kennedy, Tracey Morgan and Diedrich Bader, a sure sign that Smith has an eye for talent. Plus, he grabbed Will Ferrell before he really broke.

Perhaps we might look at the film more fondly if it truly did, as a post-credits sequence suggests, close the book on the “View Askew”-niverse. Maybe then it would seem like a nostalgic stream of consciousness adventure through a universe populated with memorable characters, with the eternal supporting characters eventually getting their shot at the big time. However, Clerks II was released a few years later and arguably did a much better job of tying up all the loose ends, bringing the franchise a full circle – right back to where it belongs.

Still, the film isn’t without its charms and has its moments – just not entirely consistently.

5 Responses

  1. My favorite scene is where Chris Rock is an asshole director making a sell-out comic book movie. It might be tied with Goodwill Hunting 2.

    • I just love the entire Good Will Hunting bits – especially where Damon just mocks Affleck incessantly about his crappy career. To be honest, I love the way Affleck is just so willing to sit there and be mocked to death (in fairness, deservedly so in most cases…)

      I also love the jab at All the Pretty Horses.

  2. The best parts of this film definitely all the insider jokes, referencing either Hollywood or Smith’s career specifically. “Applesauce, bitch” might be one of my most quoted lines.

    You are sort of right about the characters’ not being able to carry a whole movie – they do a better job in DOGMA, where they have a big role but aren’t quite the leads.

    • Yep, I don’t even thing it’s a likability thing – I think it’s a depth thing. Jay’s motivations are incredibly surface, which I think makes it difficult to base an entire movie around him.

      And the insider jokes all the way. Love Mark Hamill’s, “aw, not again” when his hand comes off.

  3. the coffe part was funny with Jamie Kennedy and Chris Rock lol “now clean that shit up”! he says lol to funny.

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