Ever seen a Kevin Smith film? Well, this is...another one. It's exactly what you'd expect, unless you expect it to feel at all new.
It's not that the man hasn't done any decent work. Clerks was a good indie comedy, and Chasing Amy was a really good character piece with a notably unconventional ending. Even Mallrats had its moments, though I wasn't too big a fan of Dogma. But with his last film in the set of New Jersey stories he began with Clerks, Smith seems to have run out of anything fresh to say.
When his films have been good, it's usually because he's had good characters to play with. The titular twosome have usually been relagated to sideline status, until their extended appearance in Dogma, where it became apparent just how much of a one-note joke they were. They could've been at least a two-note joke if Silent Bob wasn't so golldinged silent, but given that he's mostly there to give Jay someone to spout profanities at, what we end up with here is a film that's built almost solely on Jay, who's good in small doses but can't really sustain two hours. The basic plot revolves around the pair's attempts to reach Hollywood to put the stops on a movie based on a comic based vaguely on them, on the grounds that the bad advance press the film has been getting has caused a lot of bad-mouthing of the two on the Internet. It's all very self-aware and postmodern, which isn't a bad thing in its own right. It's mostly the fact that when the film isn't making some wink-at-the-audience self-referential joke, it's basically a standard road comedy with a by-the-numbers structure, including a thief with a heart of gold who falls, however impossibly, in love with Jay.
I've never quite understood why comedies seem to feel the need to follow so many rules, especially comedies that aspire to great irreverence and general wackitude. Is a plot even really necessary? Clerks had a rough skeleton of a plot, but was mostly just a series of jokes. Mallrats had a plot, and suffered from its genericism. So does this film, even with all of its self-commentary. While it's all well and good to have other characters point out that the film-within-the-film, based on our two leads, sounds like a half-baked idea destined to fail, it doesn't mean that by doing so you've somehow absolved yourself from having to be clever in spite of the aforementioned half-bakedness. This is the same trap Kevin Williamson fell into with his Scream films: pointing out your own use of clichés doesn't mean they're magically clichés no more. The difference between the two Kevins is that Smith is actually capable of good writing in his films, and doesn't have just the one trick. He has at least four, two of the others being lots of profanity and Star Wars jokes. The fourth, being his ability to write believable and realistic characters, doesn't get much of a chance here due to the focus on his most cartoonish figures.
For all of this, the film does manage some good jokes here and there. There's an actually funny conversation-or technically, just a monologue-about eating shit, which one doesn't hear all that often. Sometimes a deluge of cursing can be amusing. A deluge of violence can also be quite amusing, and there's some funny ass-kicking to be found herein. Chris Rock gets some good bits, which he probably improvised himself. If you've ever thought that Eliza Dushku was born to be vacuum-packed in black leather-i.e. if you're a guy-then there's definitely some appeal to be had here. Frankly, one wishes that the bits with the quartet of female thieves were played to their most extreme all the way through. If you're not aspiring to be all arty or dramatic, then just give the viewers what they want. Who'll complain?
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back isn't an outright failure, it's just that the jokes are spread too thinly over too long a film with too generic a plot. After Chasing Amy, I was giving odds that Kevin Smith was going to be a screenwriter to watch closely. Now I'm a lot less sure. One character likens the idea of a film based on Jay and Silent Bob as being "the worst idea since Greedo shooting first." Well, Star Wars managed some even worse ideas after that, such as the abundance of scatological humor in Episode 1, which Smith, judging from his approach here, probably thought was just fine.
-review by Matt Murray