Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I Finally Watched Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Introduction to the series
Clerks review
Mallrats review
Chasing Amy review
Dogma review

About a quarter of the way through Kevin Smith's fifth movie, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," a comparison movie jumped to mind: The Muppet Movie. Yes, I just compared a raunchy, expletive-laden film with the big screen adaptation of a TV show featuring puppets, one of whom got his start from the children's classic Sesame Street.

The comparison is accurate.

One film features a pair of characters who decide to make their way across the country in order to stop a movie from being made. Along the way, they experience a series of misadventures filled with cameos before they reach Hollywood. The other film features a pair of characters who travel across the country in order to make a film in Hollywood. Along the way, they experience a series of misadventures filled with cameos before they reach Hollywood.

See? I'm not off base.

Every Hero Needs an Origin

For the two titular characters of this film, they've come a long way from the first appearance in Clerks. In that movie, they were side characters, but with each subsequent movie, they're roles have grown. The fourth film, Dogma, they were co-stars with the protagonist. Now, they are the protagonists. And they get their origins.

Granted, it's nowhere near as tragic as Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, but, just as you'd expect, it begins outside the very same video story and Quick-Stop from Clerks. It was interesting to see the Quick-Stop in full color, yet the hand-painted sign was still there. It led me to wonder if Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back [Strike Back from here on] didn't take place on or around the same day as Clerks, but I dismissed it. Chasing Amy took place over days and weeks, so the sheet on the Quick-Stop was likely just an in joke.

Self-Referential to the Extreme

Here in 2019 when I am finally watching Smith's films, lots of folks talked about Avengers: Endgame as a unique movie-going experiences. Nowhere in that film was there a recap of the previous twenty or so films. You either knew the characters and the story or you didn't. The folks at Marvel knew this and didn't bother catching up some audience member who might've never seen a Marvel movie before.

The same dynamic holds true for Strike Back. On its surface, the movie is straightforward enough to be enjoyed by anyone. The basic description I wrote above serves that purpose. But if a viewer had already seen Smith's previous four films, then you got all the jokes and references.

Which is precisely the point.

Of the first five films of Smith's career, this is a fan-service film. Having not been aware of the movie back in 2001, I can't be sure of the following statement, but I can't help but wonder if Strike Back was the apology for Dogma. If you've read my review of that movie, you'll remember I didn't particularly enjoy it. Since then, I've read about it and learned it holds a decent score at Rotten Tomatoes and other places, but it is definitely the outlier of Smith's films so far in my watching marathon.

I suspect Smith wanted to make Strike Back on his own, but I also wonder if some studio executive didn't sit him down and lay everything on the table. "Look, Kevin, we know you're a darling indie filmmaker, but can you just go back to making stoner comedies instead of ruffling the feathers of organized religion?"

However Smith came to write Strike Back--and I've only recently learned of the documentary, "Oh, What a Lovely Tea Party" but I haven't seen it yet--he must have had a grin on his face every day he typed up the screenplay.

The Spirit of Mallrats

In Mallrats, you had a really fun film chock full of little asides about various pieces of pop culture or geekdom. The same is true for Strike Back as well, starting with the logo. Sure, I'd never seen this movie until July 2019, but when I saw the DVD in stores, I instantly realized the logo was akin to that of The Empire Strikes Back. And this movie also has Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. As Smith has said in his Fat Man on Batman podcast episode with Hamill, he got to play with the live-action Luke Skywalker action figure.

As an aside, I'm re-listening to some of the first episodes of Smith's original Fat Man on Batman podcasts. I just finished the pair of Hamill episodes. What I loved about the timing was when Hamill talked about his inspiration for his villain, Cocknocker, in Strike Back. He said it was Frank Gorshin's cadence as The Riddler in the Batman '66 TV show. He nailed it. His scenes were terrific fun, especially the "Not again" and "Jedi Master" lines. I bet he was an easy get.

The Cameos

Speaking of getting the band back together, I quickly realized I should not peruse the Wikipedia entry for Strike Back before I finished watching the movie. It was so much fun seeing the old characters pop in and out of the movie, deliver a line, or just be there. 

Dante and Randal! Brodie! Matt Damon. Wes Craven?

And Ben Affleck as Holden McNeil. Look, all the cast that showed up for this party on film did great, but I really dug Affleck's scenes. Him describing the internet early on pretty much nailed what the internet was in 2001...and remains today. That he was the one who uttered these lines, years ahead of his own public breakup with Jennifer Garner, is, well, unique timing.

It was with Affleck's internet scene that the fourth wall was broken for the first time. I have always enjoyed when movies and cartoons do this--Wile E. Coyote and  Road Runner; Jerry the Mouse; Ferris Bueller--and for the characters in Strike Back to do it just adds to the in-joke nature of this film.

Having these characters walk in and out of this movie and all the others does create that shared universe vibe. It's part of comic book history. Heck, I do it in my own series of interconnected mysteries. At least with this movie--once I stopped looking at the Wikipedia entry--lent a freshness to the watching experience. "Oh, I wonder who'll pop up next?"

To that end, I loved seeing Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa from Chasing Amy walking out of the theater. I can't remember: was the lady she was walking with the same one in the last scene of Chasing Amy? Wouldn't doubt it.

Watching for the Trademark Kevin Smith Things

Everywhere you look, there are Smithisms in this movie. More than any other to date, this is a fan service film, and that's perfectly fine. Earlier this year, as he and Marc Bernardin discussed Avengers: Endgame, Smith makes no apologies for the fan service nature of that film. He speaks from experience. And, knowing Clerks II is on the horizon, I suspect he returns to that well at least one more time, two when you throw in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

Silent Bob Speaks

Smith's alter ego Silent Bob speaks twice in Strike Back. The first shows what Bob likely thinks about Jay half the time when he screams in his friend's face about the destination of their monkey. The other is late in the film when Bob discusses the legal nature of copyright with Banky. The first was memorable, although his original line of dialogue in Clerks is my favorite, with the Chasing Amy story second.

An interesting thing about Smith's voice. Remember, I was first introduced to him via podcasting in 2012, so I'm familiar with the tenor of his voice in his forties. He sounds different in these earlier films, but he sounds most like what I know him as here in Strike Back.

The Verdict

As goofy and over-the-top as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie. I'll admit that about a third of the f-bombs could have been cut out, but it's a Kevin Smith film so that's par for the course. I'm not against swearing by any stretch, but f-bombs lose their impact if uttered too often.

I loved the party nature of this film. I've since found out that the was intended to be the last View Askew movie so Smith and company pulled out all the stops. It shows. And the film is better for it.

I started this entire discovery of Smith's films with the intention of being in-the-know when the new film, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, debuts this fall. Based on interviews in 2019, Smith has an emotional connection to the new film largely a result of his heart attack in 2018. He's said that Reboot would likely have been a different film had no heart attack occurred. Knowing Smith is an emotional guy who cries at many of the same things I cry at, I'm really looking forward to seeing Reboot...because I enjoyed Strike Back so much.

The last thing I wrote on my notepad regarding Strike Back was "And we're back!" I intended that statement to be a summation as to how I perceived Smith's movies before I started watching them. I thought of them as only movies like Mallrats and Strike Back. I didn't anticipate how good Chasing Amy was or the kind of out-of-left-field nature of Dogma. As a writer, I'm more than one type of story, just like Smith. I want folks to know that my imagination can and does go in different directions. I appreciate that aspect about Smith's five films to date. Which is good, because I know Tusk and Yoga Hosers is coming.

But up next is Jersey Girl.

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