In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, writer/director Kevin Smith closes the book on the "View Askewniverse" he created with Clerks, eight years ago. If you're a fan of Kevin Smith, you'll probably love this film. If you aren't, we still encourage you to go, with the caveat that you might be left on the outside of some of the jokes that come from the other View Askew films: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma.
Kevin Smith (who also plays Silent Bob in all of the films mentioned above) has spent the last eight years patiently explaining that he isn't that much of a Star Wars fan. True, there are references to the "Holy Trilogy" in every film he has made, and he did get married at Skywalker Ranch, but Smith maintains that the allusions are subtle jabs at geeks who take one set of science fiction movies much too seriously. Of course, he has now set his cause back decades by making a movie that has a Star Wars reference in the title, sports a Star Wars-inspired opening sequence, and climaxes with a scene featuring lightsabers. Go ahead, Kevin -- pull the other one.
Jay and Silent Bob spins out of a dangling plot line left over from Chasing Amy. Our two stoner heroes discover from Brodie (the Mallrats character played by Jason Lee) and Holden (Ben Affleck) that Banky (also Jason Lee) has sold the movie rights for the comic book property Bluntman and Chronic, which was in turn based on Jay (the ever grandiloquent Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob. After reading some unflattering opinions of themselves posted on that new-fangled invention called "the Internet," Jay and Silent Bob decide to travel to Hollywood and stop the movie from being made. They have no set plan to accomplish this task, but we would suggest putting Jean-Claude Van Damme into the cast -- that seems to keep nearly any movie from going to theaters.
Where do we put our eyes?
Thus begins the "teen road flick" portion of our film: on the way from New Jersey to Hollywood they steal an orangutan, Jay falls in love, and Silent Bob finds it necessary (big surprise) to break his silence. Fortunately, he does not do this for a thoughtful speech on the nature of romance or to quote a Star Wars film. The hetero life mates are eventually pursued by the law in the form of Marshall Willenholly (one of our favorite pop culture references in the film), played by Will Ferrell. Smith takes some time to bring the best sequence from the Jay & Silent Bob comic book Chasing Dogma to life, and then they finally reach Hollywood, where the film really picks up.
Still anxious to halt the production of Bluntman and Chronic, Jay and Silent Bob sneak into the Miramax studio grounds (hey, since when did Miramax have a working studio?), where they encounter a bickering Ben Affleck and Matt Damon before they finally confront a familiar pair of teen thespians who are cast as Bluntman and Chronic. This glimpse into the private lives of "teen" actors (as imagined by Smith, but certainly with inspiration from the young men themselves) is worth the outrageous price of admission that theaters are charging these days.
The watchword for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is "lowbrow." The language is crude and the jokes are cruder. We see our childhood icons despoiled by drugs, a fart joke that actually moves the plot forward, and a long discussion of an animal rights group, the Coalition for the Liberation of Itinerant Tree-dwellers, an offshoot of Liberate Apes Before Incarcerating Apes. If people thought Mallrats was puerile, they're in for a shock.
The answer to the question:
What the f#¢% is the Internet?
Jason Mewes gives a real comedic performance this time around. He has always been funny, but we were given the impression that he was simply playing some super-exaggerated version of himself, saying lines by rote. J&SBSB is in many ways a monologue for Jay, so he has to be better than before -- and he is. Mewes obviously hopes to appear in other films now that the character of Jay is disappearing, and this performance makes us believe he can do it. Smith doesn't so much act as Silent Bob as mug the camera and nod occasionally, but at least the man knows where his strengths lie.
The rest of the cast is there to support the once-peripheral Jersey characters who have unexpectedly become the central players in their own film. Smith has admitted in interviews that he was initially wary of basing an entire movie on bit characters, but with the likes of Eliza Dushku, Chris Rock, Shannon Elizabeth, George Carlin, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon around, it's not as if our attentions couldn't be distracted from a motormouth dope pusher and his mute pal. Smith's family is also in attendance to move things along -- wife Jen Schwalbach has a part, and daughter Harley Quinn Smith plays the infant Silent Bob. And hey, did we mention Eliza Dushku?
And he doesn't even have to
put up with her stupid fake accent.
Even more entertaining than the recognizable actors in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back are the pop culture jokes. Nods to the screen fantasies of George Lucas aside, Kevin Smith could entertain an audience of nostalgic twenty- and thirty-somethings for hours with sly jabs and knowing references to '70s TV (Scooby Doo, Land of the Lost), '80s movies (The Breakfast Club, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Purple Rain), and '90s celebrities (you simply must see the conversation between Affleck and Damon about their career paths).
We regard this movie with special fondness because it will be the last Askewniverse film, at least according to Smith. As a body of work, we have enjoyed the "Jersey" films more than practically any other series of movies, at least those that don't feature giant lizards stomping cities. Considering that Smith has had to put up with critics (ourselves included) who complain that his work lacks a certain visual luster, we're happy to report that this is the best looking Askew film yet. Smith apparently decided to let his most famous creation go out on a high note.
At least, that's the theory. This is supposed to be the last Jay and Silent Bob flick. Of course, if this one makes a $100 million, we'll probably see Jay and Silent Bob Sell Out before long.