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Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

After Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma, They Get Their Own Movie

By Steve W. Raso

Written and Directed by Kevin Smith

Starring Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck and Shannon Elizabeth

Rated R

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the fifth and final installment in Kevin Smith’s New Jersey-based series of “slacker comedies” is a loose, crude and sometimes hysterical parody of the buddy/road movie. We first met the pot-dealing team of Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and writer/director Kevin Smith respectively, in Smith’s low-budget 1994 film, Clerks. Since, the obnoxious loudmouth Jay and his quiet but somewhat reluctant sidekick have been the only characters to reappear in all of Smith’s movies that followed: Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997) and Dogma (1999).

What sets the eponymously titled Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back apart from the others is that this time Jay and Silent Bob are the main characters. In Smith’s earlier movies Jay and Silent Bob worked from the periphery, appearing at important points in the movies, but never given much screen time. However, in Dogma it worked very well for Smith to give the duo a prominent role among an ensemble of characters. Throughout Chasing Amy, Jay and Bob allowed their names and likenesses to be used in the underground comic book series Bluntman and Chronic. Now, in the latest flick, they must head to Hollywood to stop the production of an unauthorized Bluntman and Chronic movie.

On the surface Smith uses this premise as a vehicle to take pot shots at the movie industry and pop culture in general, but anyone whose seen Dawson’s Creek or Armageddon knows that these targets are way too easy. What’s really going on is that the movie gave actors, directors, and movie execs the chance to make fun of themselves. It’s fun to watch these teen heartthrobs candidly talk about scoring with costars and rip on each other for playing lame characters or starring in bad movies.

Most of the barbs are directed at Miramax Pictures, Ben Affleck and Smith himself (and by extension, the audience -- for having sat through his movie). Since everybody is poking fun at themselves the movie has good-natured and playful feel, kind of like a Friars Club celebrity roast. In contrast, Dogma was a true satire with sharp teeth, taking big bites out of Catholicism and organized religion.

Unlike some other clever Hollywood send-ups, such as Robert Altman’s The Player and David Mamet’s State & Main, this movie doesn’t pretend to be highbrow or subtle. Smith makes no apologies for using the all too often warmed over genre of the idiot buddy comedy, or making a movie that often feels like it came from a Saturday Night Live skit.

Instead Smith (whose previous movies have defied formulae) has chosen to embrace that hackneyed stupidity, to the point of having Jay and Silent Bob befriend an orangutan. In some cases this approach worked and the result was stupid but very funny; in others it was just stupid and painful to watch. However, there is an unmistakable gritty style and dialog that Smith brings, such that no one will confuse this movie with another Wayne’s World sequel.

As a sequel itself, far too much of the humor relies on the audience having seen the first four movies. For instance, you won’t understand what’s funny about the number 37 or the mention of chocolate-covered pretzels unless you’ve seen both Clerks and Mallrats. Even worse are the deeper references to earlier plot lines and appearances of characters from the other movies that go unexplained. What’s most disappointing about this effort is its lack of real substance. It is something of a letdown after Dogma, in which Smith showed that he could attack big topics in a way that was deep, spiritual and scathingly funny.

In many ways this movie was reminiscent of the final Seinfeld episode, in which all of the interconnecting characters returned to wrap things up. Smith has come a long way from using his personal credit cards to make a grainy black and white movie about kids who work in a convenience store. Though I’ve greatly enjoyed all of the Jay and Silent Bob movies (perhaps not Mallrats), I’m looking forward to Kevin Smith’s next project, which will break away from the gang of New Jersey slackers and attempt something entirely different.