Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: When New Jersey stoners Jay and Silent Bob find out that a comic book based on them is to be made into a multi-million dollar Miramax movie, they head off to Hollywood determined to put a stop to the shoot. They have, however, reckoned without the intervention of an orang-utan, a quartet of suspiciously lithe anti-vivisectionists, and a number of big Hollywood names complicating their plans.

There is much debate – in my mind, if nowhere else – about the talents of Kevin Smith. On the one hand, he created gold from a budget of almost nothing in Clerks; on the other, he revelled in the pretentious drivel of Dogma and made the cringe-worthy Jersey Girl. As Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is clearly inhabited by the population of the Clerks ‘Askewniverse’, you would hope that Smith is on safe ground; but to be completely honest, I’m not really sure what sort of film the director has ended up with, and I suspect Smith doesn’t know either.

Anyone who remembers Clerks (or more specifically, Mallrats, which I haven’t seen) will be instantly familiar with the set-up. Foul-mouthed weed dealer Jay (Jason Mewes) is still hanging around the store run by Dante and Randal (Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson) with his taciturn colleague Silent Bob (Smith), but a prank on Randal backfires and sees them banished from their pitch at the front of the store. Seeking refuge in a comic book store, Jay and Bob discover that two unscrupulous writers have turned the slackers into Bluntman and Chronic, comic heroes who, following the success of X-Men, are to be turned into a movie by Miramax.

Jay and Bob are naturally perturbed that they have been neither consulted about nor compensated for this movie, and are horrified when the comic’s co-writer shows them Internet chatter about the project slagging the characters – ie. them – off; so the pair start hitching their way to Hollywood. Their plans are disrupted when Jay becomes smitten with the beautiful Justice (Shannon Elizabeth), who is travelling with three other lovely animal liberators. Jay and Bob tag along and to prove his love for Justice (or rather, to guarantee himself sex), Jay agrees to take a monkey from a testing facility, though they in fact free an orang-utan called Suzanne. Unfortunately, the animal liberation has been a front all along, to cover up the girls’ athletic liberation of a haul of diamonds before faking their own deaths, leaving Jay to mourn and Bob to bond with Suzanne as they make their way to the Miramax film lot, with Federal Wildlife Marshall Willenholly (Will Ferrell) in hot but dim pursuit.

You can call Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back many things – scabrous, irreverential, juvenile – but its most vociferous defenders would have to concede that stylistically it’s all over the place. In part it furthers the legend of the Clerks characters, especially the utterly filthy Jay; he is given a love interest and as their world opens out, his obsession with sex, drugs, and making fun of gays infects everyone else, including cameos from Ben Affleck and Jason Lee (in two roles each), Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek.

In another part, the film teeters on the edge of becoming an overly-knowing parody, what with its obvious Star Wars jokes – further cameos from Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill as the gloriously-named Cocknocker – and appearances from directors Gus Van Sant and Wes Anderson, plus take-offs of Planet of the Apes and The Fugitive. Then, with Ferrell’s usual shouty shtick as the inept law enforcer and the presence of the ape, the film sometimes has the feel of a seventies comedy, with all the sophistication (fart and ass jokes) that suggests.

None of this necessarily makes the movie bad, even though there are guilty looks to the camera each time someone mentions they might be in a bad movie; but there are at best naff and at worst nasty elements to the film that work against it. Firstly, a lot of the jokes, such as the awkward acronym for the animal liberation front Jay and Bob are supposed to represent (C.L.I.T.), are targeted at viewers like Beavis and Butthead, people who will laugh at anything after a few joints and a couple of beers; and the joyous homophobia exhibited is hardly excused by a disclaimer in the credits discouraging it in the real world (like who reads the credits?). Secondly, in Justice Elizabeth is landed one of those crummy, unbelievable roles where the heroine falls in love with a complete idiot, no matter how unpleasant or unbecoming he is to her, causing her to forsake her friends and her freedom on his behalf.

Thirdly, there are the stars of the show. As impressive as he is, in his nasty way, Jay really fits in Red Bank, New Jersey, and his interactions with people other than Silent Bob show the limits of Mewes’ talents. As for Bob, the joke wore thin some time ago and here there is no worthwhile pay-off for the silence, so why bother with him at all? Smith’s film certainly doesn’t skewer Hollywood, even though it rips on a couple of bad movies (mainly Smith’s own), and his attack on Internet sites also seems rather precious, as though Smith had been reading opinions about his own films and decided to have a go back, for all the good it would do him. Will Ferrell brings energy but not much laughter to his role, while Chris Rock merely irritates as the racist director of the Bluntman and Chronic film. Thankfully, Mark Hamill is excellent, though even here I wish Smith had resisted the urge to trumpet his arrival with clumsy and patronising captions.

I have never really understood what the deal is with the ‘Askewniverse’, and if it’s not just a grand way of Smith saying he has a bunch of recurring characters who say more vulgar things than people can normally get away with, I’d be grateful for the education. Perhaps watching Mallrats and Chasing Amy would clue me up a little; though it would take a lot to convince me that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is anything other than the director putting his fingers up to the World Wide Web, showing off his new Hollywood connections, and getting a last bit of acting work for old friends.

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