JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK

written and directed by Kevin Smith with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes opens Aug. 24 at Meridian, Metro, and

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Road tripped

Kevin Smith stumbles one step forward, two steps back.

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK

written and directed by Kevin Smith with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes opens Aug. 24 at Meridian, Metro, and others

ANY ENJOYMENT, contempt, or rudimentary comprehension you'll experience during Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back would be enormously aided by a crash course in Kevin Smith's first four flicks (his preferred term, and it's accurate). The Jersey enthusiast tries to ingratiate his latest with a blitzkrieg of young Hollywood cameos and popcorn movie references, but he purees it all into a soap-operatic labyrinth where regulars reprise multiple roles and play themselves. For the untutored, merely knowing the English for "snootchie boochies" will not cut it.

A question for the initiated: Wasn't the lukewarm box office for 1998's giving-Catholicism-the-ruler melodrama Dogma proof that even hard-core fans don't care about a Jay and Silent Bob road trip? This tired extension of what was formerly Smith's "Jersey Trilogy"—I'm actually welcoming his unpromising Fletch retread— is dishearteningly redundant. Smith sends his dope-peddling titular layabouts on another protracted cross-country exodus overrun with uninteresting fringe characters. Some even break the proscenium to mock the inanity onscreen. Their arguments are convincing.

This time, Jay (letter-perfect vulgarian Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (a mute Smith, overcompensating with obnoxious facial contortions) hitch to Hollywood to sabotage the adaptation of the Bluntman and Chronic comic book. Indie comic auteurs Holden and Banky (Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, respectively, from Chasing Amy) have conceded the B&C rights to a major studio, but the vitriolic Internet backlash is directed at the source characters, our heroes. "Fuck them up their stupid asses," flames the huffy online poster "MagnoliaFan."

That handle references an infantile real-life war Smith waged with Paul Thomas Anderson aficionados on his own View Askew chatboard. While the gag isn't exactly self-deprecating (to be fair, Smith constantly has Jay refer to Silent Bob as "tons of fun" and "fat fuck"), it's indicative of laudable goals beneath the scatological facade. Smith skewers irrelevant fanboy cyberbabble, decries the commercialization of comic art, and gooses Clerks and Mallrats fans weary of the heavy-handed social conscience he displayed in Chasing Amy and Dogma.

On the latter level, he's most successful. Smith rivals James Cameron's dedication in painstakingly recreating sets, characters, and situations from his back catalogue. His arcane knowledge of not just '80s fluff like Purple Rain but flops associated with his own cast (especially golden boys Affleck and Matt Damon) inspires huge laughs that shouldn't be spoiled. A timely Planet of the Apes parody featuring the old Clerks gang is another killer highlight. As for the rest? File under "Fuck It Up Its Stupid Ass."

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