The Films of Kevin Smith
Clerks (July 11/06)
Though Clerks is awfully rough around the edges, it's not difficult to see why the film has become a minor comedy classic in the years since its 1994 release. Writer/director Kevin Smith's penchant for writing genuinely funny dialogue, coupled with the uniformly amateurish yet likeable performances, ensures that the film remains amiable and entertaining throughout its brief running time. Having said that, Smith's dialogue is occasionally a little too clever for its own good; there's simply no getting around the fact that people just don't talk this way in real life (however, as David Mamet has proven time and time again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing). That Smith has peppered his screenplay with archetypes rather than characters (ie Brian O'Halloran's Dante and Jeff Anderson's Randall essentially come off as a stereotypically morose straight man and his wacky sidekick, respectively) probably doesn't help matters, nor does his infamously low-rent sense of style (which is, even by Smith's standards, particularly conspicuous here). But the palpable charm of the characters ultimately proves impossible to resist, and the film's inherent deficiencies are generally overshadowed by the distinctly earnest vibe.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (February 25/02)
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back supposedly represents writer/director Kevin Smith's last foray into the world of Jay and Silent Bob (and all the other characters we've come to associate with Smith). Should he remain true to his promise, that'd really be a shame - given that Smith really has a knack for writing dialogue for co-star Jason Mewes (Jay to Smith's Silent Bob) and all the other bizarre characters that populate this fictional (and occasionally not-so-fictional) world. Less a movie and more a series of sequences designed to bring back many former characters and random guest stars, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back follows the title characters as they embark on a road trip to Hollywood after learning that their comic-book alter egos, Bluntman and Chronic, are heading for the big screen without their permission. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, along with Smith's previous films, is light on plot but heavy on jokes. This usually isn't a problem, but the storyline is particularly thin this time around. The entire subplot featuring the four jewel thieves doesn't really go anywhere, and exists only to kill a good half-hour of screen time. Indeed, the stuff with these jewel thieves proves to be more dull than anything else - the laughs just about come to a dead halt whenever Smith dwells on these four ladies - and it's easy enough to wish that Smith would've just included more screwball antics with Jay and Silent Bob on their trek. But aside from that, the film does contain a lot of big laughs and fun guest appearances. Virtually every major character from Smith's previous films is back, including a few that require the same actor to appear twice (Jason Lee returns as Banky and Brodie, for example). Add to that some hilarious surprise appearances (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon return for a sequence detailing the filming of Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season), and you've got a madcap comedy that rarely disappoints. Put it this way: The first half hour rocks, the middle 30 minutes is essentially disposable, while the last 45 minutes just fly by. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a suitable conclusion to the Jersey trilogy that wound up being five flicks. Check it out, but do yourself a favor - make sure you've seen the films that came before it before sitting down to watch Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Director Kevin Smith's first non-View Askewniverse effort, Jersey Girl follows Ben Affleck's Ollie Trinke as he attempts to raise his daughter (Raquel Castro's Gertie) after his wife (Jennifer Lopez's Gertrude) dies during childbirth. It's clear immediately that Smith is looking to distance himself from his previous features, as Jersey Girl boasts a distinctly conventional feel that's reflected in its shopworn storyline, polished visuals, and ongoing emphasis on sappy, saccharine elements (including a climactic race to a pivotal event). There's little doubt, then, that the movie benefits substantially from its strong performances and smattering of compelling sequences, with, in terms of the former, Smith eliciting impressive work from Affleck and his various costars (including Liv Tyler, Jason Biggs, and, delivering what is perhaps a career-best turn, George Carlin) - which ultimately does ensure that the picture is at its best when focused on smaller, character-based interludes (ie Smith's knack for believable, funny dialogue occasionally does shine through here). Such moments are all-too-often overshadowed by Smith's predilection for cookie-cutter plot developments and extreme, aggressive instances of maudlin silliness, with the writer/director's perpetually less-than-subtle sensibilities dulling the impact of several key moments and ensuring that the movie's ending doesn't pack the emotional, heartwrenching punch clearly intended - thus confirming Jersey Girl's place as a barely-passable drama from an otherwise underrated filmmaker.
Clerks II (July 14/06)
It goes without saying that Clerks II is a distinct improvement over Kevin Smith's last directorial effort, the sappy and predictable Jersey Girl. Clerks II returns Smith to the forum in which he's clearly the most comfortable, as the writer/director punctuates the movie with an emphasis on pop-culture references and risque bits of comedy. But Smith's also infused Clerks II - which follows Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) as they attempt to cope with the former's decision to move to Florida - with an unexpected amount of heart and sweetness, resulting in an emotional payoff that one would never have anticipated from the filmmaker. Where the first Clerks essentially resembled a student film, Clerks II immediately establishes itself as an actual movie - complete with charismatic performances, stylish visuals (!), and a concrete, engaging storyline. And although the movie is occasionally as cloying and sentimental as Jersey Girl - a vibe that's compounded by the inclusion of several overly-obvious plot points (ie there is absolutely no chemistry between Dante and his fiancee, and it's clear right from the get-go that she's completely wrong for him) - Smith smartly plays up Dante and Randal's friendship, and there's little doubt that their rapport keeps things interesting even during the periodic lulls within the script. Smith's dialogue has certainly improved in the years since his '94 debut, and the filmmaker imbues the proceedings with a whole host of natural, genuinely hilarious conversations (a Lord of the Rings/Star Wars debate is an obvious highlight). Adding to the good-natured vibe are the likeable performances, with O'Halloran and Anderson even more effective this time around than they were 12 years ago. The two are especially strong in the film's increasingly dramatic sequences that crop up towards the end, and ensure that such moments never become as treacly as one might've expected. Rosario Dawson is a welcome addition to the cast, though Trevor Fehrman never quite manages to settle into an appropriate groove (even he fares better than Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, who strikes all the wrong notes as Dante's bubble-headed fiancee). Clerks II is easily Smith's most effective movie to date, and it's certainly his most moving; as a poignant look at finding one's purpose in life, the film undoubtedly succeeds. If nothing else, the movie's third act essentially guarantees that Smith's fans will walk away satisfied - to the extent that one can't help but hope that the director revisits these characters yet again somewhere down the line.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
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Cop Out (February 25/10)
Unquestionably Kevin Smith's weakest movie to date (and, perhaps not coincidentally, the only endeavor within his filmography he didn't write), Cop Out follows bumbling cops Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) as they reluctantly agree to track down a stolen Mercedes for a vicious drug lord (Guillermo Díaz's Poh Boy) - with their ongoing efforts at locating the vehicle ultimately triggering waves of chaos and violence. Though it's clear almost instantly that Smith is going for the feel of an '80s buddy comedy, Cop Out suffers from a hopelessly low-rent sensibility that's reflected in virtually all of its attributes - with Morgan's almost astonishingly incompetent performance effectively exacerbating the movie's myriad of problems. The actor, who shouts and mugs his way through the entirety of Cop Out's overlong running time, subsequently finds himself unable to make a real connection with any of his costars, which inevitably results in a disastrous lack of chemistry between his character and Willis' Jimmy (ie they're simply not compelling together, nor are they believable as partners). The ensuing atmosphere of pervasive tedium is particularly disappointing given the inclusion of several overtly positive elements, including enjoyable cameo appearances by a number of familiar faces, Harold Faltermeyer's gloriously old-school score, and an ongoing emphasis on impossible-to-resist cop-movie cliches (ie the angry captain). It's ultimately the lack of momentum that cements Cop Out's failure, as the movie is simply unable to hold the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time - with the less-than-enthralling vibe compounded by Smith's inability to wring either laughs or thrills from Robb and Mark Cullen's relentlessly meandering screenplay.
An impressive departure for Kevin Smith, Red State details the turmoil that ensues for three teenagers (Michael Angarano's Travis, Nicholas Braun's Billy Ray, and Kyle Gallner's Jarod) after they're captured by Michael Parks' charming yet sinister Abin Cooper and his band of religious fundamentalists. It's a compelling premise that is, for the most part, employed to better-than-average effect by Smith, as the writer/director offers up a grim and relentlessly gritty thriller that's certainly a far cry from his usual fare - with the movie's down-and-dirty atmosphere perpetuated by an emphasis on increasingly (and impressively) dark elements. The rather conventional nature of Red State's opening 20 minutes - the movie does, after all, initially play like a typical teen horror flick - is hardly indicative of what follows, as Smith does an effective job of confounding the viewer's expectations on a progressively pronounced basis. The most obvious example of this is unquestionably the lengthy sermon delivered by Parks' character in the minutes following the protagonists' abduction, with the scene, though exceedingly well acted by Parks, bringing the proceedings to a dead halt and wreaking havoc on the film's tenuous momentum. The movie likewise suffers from a stop-and-start structure that generally prevents one from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative, as Smith often cuts to lengthy, sporadically awkward dialogue-based interludes just as things are beginning to get interesting (eg Goodman's FBI agent engages in a blatantly expository phone call with his boss). Red State's pervasive unevenness ultimately prevents it from become the consistently engrossing and tense thriller that Smith has clearly intended, yet, by that same token, the film boasts more than enough positive attributes to warrant a mild recommendation - with, especially, the strong performances and smattering of shocking moments sustaining one's interest from start to finish.
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Yoga Hosers (August 15/17)
A strong contender for Kevin Smith’s worst film, Yoga Hosers follows Canadian clerks Colleen (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen (Harley Quinn Smith) as they’re forced to take up arms against an ancient evil alongside a quirky demon-hunter named Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp). Filmmaker Smith admittedly does a fine job of initially drawing the viewer into the off-kilter proceedings, with the pervasively oddball atmosphere perpetuated by an ongoing emphasis on entertainingly silly elements and performances – with Smith’s dialogue occasionally, though not often enough, echoing the pared-down chatter of the Clerks films. It does become increasingly clear, however, that the younger Depp and Smith are simply not up to the task of leading a full-length feature, as the two actresses deliver thin, mostly shrill performances that are about as far from charismatic and compelling as one could imagine (ie it’s exceedingly difficult to root for these one-dimensional figures). The movie eventually (and ultimately) progresses from almost watchable to somewhat interminable as the narrative transforms into an egregiously over-the-top mess of pointless digressions and silly special effects, with Yoga Hosers, in the end, confirming its place as a misbegotten endeavor that could only be enjoyed by a stoner (or maybe small children).