Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2002)

D: Kevin Smith
S: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith

The most important message conveyed by Kevin Smith's fifth feature is that critics who write negative reviews on the internet will be beaten up by its leading characters (one of whom is played by the director). Okay: I'm scared.

Thoroughly moronic, monumentally self indulgent and overlong exercise in self-reference following the adventures of the eponymous characters, supporting players in all of the director's previous films, as they make their way to Hollywood to stop the production of a film about their lives. Along the way they hook up with characters from Chasing Amy and Clerks, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon appear and makes jokes about Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill turn up amid a slew of Star Wars jokes and other star cameos, and there are enough film and TV in-jokes to amuse inebriated pop-culture aficionados long enough to write incoherently on the internet about it (before being beaten up, of course).

Smith has a great many ideas, as his work to date has shown. He also has a love of dialogue and eccentric characters which has sustained his films though both an excess and a lack of plot. Not all of his ideas are good ones though, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back sounds like it should be a lot funnier than it is. There are situations which should be good, or at least serviceably funny. This kind of thing has been done before, usually with well known comedians poking fun at the foibles of the system which sustains them. 'Movie' movies have a long heritage, and their tendency to disappear up their own proverbial rear passage is as notable as their success. This one has gags about the audience, the industry, and the artist which are fine in principle, jokes about Scooby Doo and Charlie's Angels which feel like they should be hilarious, and climaxes with a 'fake' movie scene which must have sounded great on paper. Yet for some reason the movie leaves you cold and bored, raising a chuckle only periodically, and then not for very long. It is just too self indulgent to really excuse, and when the characters on screen being talking about how dumb you have to be to pay to see a movie about these characters, then turn and look at you, you not only get the joke and agree, you just want to leave the theatre entirely and ask for your money back.

In fairness, no one who goes to see this movie is going to expect much in the way of coherence or taste. Jay and Silent Bob have been cleverly used as characters throughout Smith's work to date, but they have always had the capacity to be as boring as they are funny. The feature proves the old adage about less being more, as extended exposure to the endless drug jokes and profanity produces numbness rather than fondness. Mewes is particularly tiresome. Though is performance is certainly sustained, the character just isn't interesting enough for us to let the inanity pass. Smith, meanwhile, is faintly amusing because he remains silent almost all the way through, but he's no Harpo Marx and his facial expressions are charmless.

Watching the film does make you think, but not about the film itself. It makes you wonder about a world in which time and money is spent on this kind of scale on something so completely worthless. This is a schoolboy pet project made on a studio budget. It makes you wonder about the nature of art and self-expression, and whether it really is of value to see and hear every utterance by an individual artist. There is such a thing as poor cinema, and though Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is no Plan 9 From Outer Space, its wilful incoherence and deliberate refusal of depth or emotion is less about thumbing its nose at established conventions than it is a case of the filmmaker not knowing what to do next and simply filling in time with some cinematic masturbation. Maybe we don't need to watch it though.

In the way of these things, I'm sure Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back will have its fans. Alex Cox' Straight to Hell was a similar venture which has developed a cult following after initial general indifference and contempt. This is a worthless film made by a filmmaker who can do better, but even at his best Smith is still just getting started. We can only hope that he hasn't lost the run of himself already, because just because you peak early and spend the rest of your career fiddling around against the odds doesn't mean that you're Orson Welles.


Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.