Last night I watched — for the second time this week — Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019), which is the latest episode of a saga polymath auteur Kevin Smith has been telling since 1994 with his first film, Clerks. The arc of that tale contains one of my very favorite movies, Dogma (1999), wherein we learn that God looks exactly like Alanis Morissette.
If you’ve never heard of Jay and (his “hetero life-mate”) Silent Bob, you’ve missed a minor cultural phenomenon. Clerks is a cinematic landmark on par with Reservoir Dogs, and is preserved in the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” In my book, it’s all three.
I’ve been waiting well over a decade to see these guys again!
Comparing Clerks to Reservoir Dogs (1992) works on many levels. Both are the feature-length debuts of notable modern auteur filmmakers. Both are considered cinematic landmarks. Both involve subject matter some find hard to take (although for quite different reasons in this case).
The irony, perhaps, is that, while Reservoir Dogs is arguably the lesser landmark, Tarantino went on to become (at least in my opinion) a far more versatile storyteller. Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), to me, are cinematic masterpieces, and I’ve loved every film he’s done since.
As much as I cherish Jay and Silent Bob, for me Smith has been something of a one-trick pony. Worse, he’s done a couple, Jersey Girl (2004) and Cop Out (2010), I thought were real stinkers. (Jersey Girl was at least watchable. I turned off Cop Out after 15 minutes; it was wretched.)
However I have not seen his horror films, Red State (2011), Tusk (2014), and Yoga Hosers (2016), so I can’t speak to which side of the line they’d be for me. I have a sneaking suspicion I’d like them.
(To be honest, after Cop Out I kinda gave up on him and didn’t even know about the horror films. Smith is also huge in the comics world, and I left that world quite some time ago.)
When I watched it earlier this week I laughed my ass off, but I was also drinking beer, which makes me happy on its own. I wanted to watch it again to see if I thought it was as funny without the beer.
I laughed my ass off again. It’s rich enough and textured enough to be funny even knowing what’s coming. In some cases, especially knowing what’s coming.
(My experience is that any rich story bears a second round with awareness of where the story goes. I find there is much to see in the storyteller’s construction of the path, but it’s only visible — at least to me — if one knows the whole structure.)
However, there is a big double caveat.
Firstly, the movie won’t work well (or possibly at all) if you don’t know the saga. The story leans heavily on callbacks to previous films. If you’ve never seen Dogma, for instance, the scene with Matt Damon will make no sense.
Secondly, this is crude adolescent stoner humor, albeit informed by an educated, sensitive, brilliant mind. (Casting Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma? I think that’s genius, especially since she never utters a word. (Her voice, however, is a whole other matter.))
So this is definitely an insider film, is my point.
But, if you love independent cinema, and don’t know Jay and Silent Bob, you might want to check it out:
- Clerks (1994)
- Mallrats (1995)
- Chasing Amy (1997)
- Dogma (1999)
- Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
- Clerks II (2006)
- Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)
This latest episode is absolutely true to its name: It’s a deliberate and careful reboot of the 2001 film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
In that film, Jay and Silent Bob learn Hollywood is making a movie based on a comic book two local friends, Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee), created based on Jay and Silent Bob.
You see, Jay and Silent Bob are weed dealers, and the comic based on them has (for lack of a better term) “superheroes” named Bluntman and Chronic. (If you don’t get those names, these movies may not be for you.)
Outraged that Hollywood might besmirch their names, the pair set off from New Jersey (where these films are set) to Hollywood to stop the production of the movie. Or, failing that, get in on the profits.
So the movie is essentially a road-trip movie with a destination payoff.
At that point Smith had a lot of leverage, due to Clerks and Chasing Amy, and Strikes Back is, to say the least, star-studded (just check out the cast list on the Wiki page).
In the reboot, after getting in trouble with the law, they sign away their names and learn Hollywood is do a remake of the Bluntman and Chronic movie.
Once again they set off to Hollywood to put a stop to it (outraged that their very names have been taken from them). Worse, they find out the film is being made by that Kevin Smith guy, who they hate ever since Cop Out (funny, me, too, kinda). Smith’s other popular failure, Jersey Girl, also gets dissed a lot in this film.
Not in, but after Clerks, there has been a growing use of meta in Smith’s approach, and he’s been known to break the fourth wall, having actors look directly into the camera to make a point.
There is an info-dump meta-scene between the duo and Jason Lee (a regular supporting actor in the saga) where the latter explains the difference between a sequel (which Hollywood doesn’t make anymore), a reboot (not great), and a remake (even worse).
“A reboot is when Hollywood wants to make a lot of money without the hassle of creating a new movie, so they take an old movie and change just enough to make you pay for the same shit all over again. They take a flick you loved and add youth and diversity to it.”
He challenges Jay and Silent Bob to name the movie where a robot has secret plans that could help the good guys and hurt the bad guys and their leader who wears a black mask.
The pair immediately know the answer: Star Wars, of course. Nope, The Force Awakens. The reboot.
On the other hand:
“A remake is like a reboot when the studio doesn’t care how the audience feels about the original movie, so they just keep the title, fuck up everything else, and ruin both flicks in the process.”
That sounds about right to me.
The film, of course, is explicitly titled Reboot, and Smith definitely added youth and diversity to it — his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, appears as Millennium Faulken, and her gal pals include black actress Treshelle Edmond as Soppy Pia, who is deaf, Aparna Brielle as Jihad, a Muslim, and Alice Wen as Shan Yu, from China (although there is more than meets the eye).
Speaking of meta, Millennium and Jihad have a conversation at one point where they wonder if their conversation would pass the Bechdel test.
The film opens by echoing the beginning of Clerks where Dante (Brian O’Halloran) arrives to open the Quick Stop convenience store that was the center Clerks revolved around. The same store Jay and Silent Bob hung out in front of selling weed.
Suddenly, instantly, cops and SWAT are everywhere. Next to the Quick Stop is a new shop, the Cock Smoker (Cumming Soon! says the sign). The cops are focused on that store demanding Jay and Silent Bob exit with their hands up. Which they do, and are hauled off.
The next day in court, a lawyer shows up, gets them to sign a contract giving away the rights to their own names, but also gets them freed claiming they were actors involved in a studio promotional stunt (promoting the upcoming film, the remake of the old Bluntman and Chronic film).
This is the seed that starts them off to Hollywood to stop that horrible filmmaker Kevin Smith from doing the remake. (A crucial scene for the movie will be filmed at the Chronic Con convention in Hollywood — they plan to interfere.)
Along the way, Jay discovers a daughter (Millennium) he didn’t know about, a consequence of the original trip to Hollywood. (They got mixed up with a gang of four female jewel thieves. One of them fell for Jay.)
I especially loved Matt Damon reprising his angel Loki role. It’s just a short scene where he explains what God did to him as a consequence of the events in Dogma.
Apparently She let him live, but dumped him in the Mediterranean Sea where he was found by fishermen. He says, “You could say I was born again.” A bit later he refers to his “born identity.” (I don’t have to explain that, do I?)
The scene with Holden (Ben Affleck) and Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) is sweet. It’s late in the film, and I was starting to wonder if Smith would bring Affleck back.
It turns out Holden donated sperm to Alyssa and her wife to create a child they all share. That child is played by Jason Mewes’ daughter.
Justice, Jay’s old flame, and mother of the daughter he didn’t know about, is married to Reggie Faulken (Rosario Dawson, who appeared as a different character in Clerks II).
Which reflects what I mean about low-brow humor informed by sensitivity. You can’t fault Smith much on inclusion of oft excluded character types.
One last thing to watch for: In the Mooby’s scene, the manager who shoves Bob into the ladies restroom for a quickie is Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, who has appeared in many of Smith’s films.
As with Strikes Back, this one is also seriously star-studded. Besides those already mentioned: Chris Hemsworth, Craig Robinson, Kate Micucci, Diedrich Bader, Method Man, Redman, Melissa Benoist, Val Kilmer, Tommy Chong, Fred Armisen, Molly Shannon, and a few others, all have small roles.
The movie ends where it began, outside the Quick Stop (with Dante once again arriving to open up).
The final dialog includes two important pieces of wisdom. One of them ties back to my previous post: “Failure is success training.”
The other is the fundamental tenant of comedy: “Fuck’m if they can’t take a joke.” (I have a cousin who always wanted that as a tee-shirt.)
“The dishes are done, man!”
Stay rebooted, my friends!