Kevin Smith month at Was I Nuts? comes to a close, hitting it’s final chapter in what was originally thought of as the end to this part of the writer-director’s career with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. After years of spending time with the potheads, nerds, artists and celestial beings that called New Jersey home, Smith’s 2001 picture was once the final stop for this universe of oddly connected characters, finishing up with the titular twosome that appeared in each one of Smith’s first four films.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back would feature Smith’s dear friend Jason Mewes taking the lead part, with his own somewhat quiet sidekick alongside. It also displayed the vast continuity that had come before, comments on how many of the actors from previous projects had grown to larger stardom and many, many, many in-jokes. It was seen as equal parts best-of and send-off. At the time it was a bummer to see this cast of miscreants bid adieu, but times are different and the rollercoaster rolled along anyways. Was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back actually worth the excitement? How does it stand up now that I’ve revisited the filmmaker’s filmography and found it less bulletproof than before? Was I Nuts?
Released in the dog days of summer 2001, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back basically fit the mold of what to expect of a Kevin Smith release, making roughly $30 million at the domestic box office, nearly the exact number as his last picture Dogma. Critically, it was all over the place, with a few raves, a large heap of indifference and a small helping of done with it.
The film follows, obviously, Jay and Silent Bob. The pair discovers that the superhero comic “Bluntman and Chronic” that was inspired by their likeness is becoming a film. This would be excellent news, except for some reason they aren’t getting any cash for it. So it’s road-trip time to either get paid or stop the movie from getting made. Along the way they run into a host of celebrities, celebrities playing past characters and lookalikes to the Scooby Doo gang.
Finally, the one I actually saw in the theatre, opening day too if memory serves right. I thoroughly bought into the notion that Smith’s View Askew Jersey movies were done and that he’d be moving onto a new chapter with this film. I loved seeing the old favorites back, with various cast members from Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy popping up. It was the emotional equivalent of a great television series having its series finale.
I was in college at the time and I definitely didn’t cycle through Smith’s movies on the DVD player as regularly as I would’ve years earlier. As such, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, like Dogma before it, isn’t in my veins like the director’s earliest films. I went, I laughed a ton, I bought the soundtrack and home release; it never was more. Simply, it was a movie I liked a good deal, but outside of that opening week or so, was just another item of the shelf. If I’ve watched that DVD more than two times since buying it a movie store in the Salisbury, Maryland mall, I’d be shocked.
Cautious is definitely the thought here. The fact that most of the jokes will play as new to me is slightly appealing. That many of them will feature the goofier version of Jay and Silent Bob versus the more down to Earth take isn’t too appealing. A little of Jay shouting can go a long way; two hours? After the missteps with Dogma and the successful blending with drama of Chasing Amy, it will be interesting to see how Smith handled his first out-and-out comedy since Mallrats……please don’t be Mallrats.
Oddly enough, for a director whose films can often feel like akin to a series of sketches strung together, Smith over-plots Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back so poorly that it at times is almost unwatchable. The premise is basic enough as our dealing duo crosses the country to Hollywood to prevent a movie being made against their permission. Along the way, there’s a whole chunk that clogs the arteries of the comedy; the stupid diamond heist nonsense.
For those that forgot or are unfamiliar, at one point in their adventure, Jay and Silent Bob meet a quartet of women that are clearly shady. It turns out they are diamond thieves, eventually opting to use our protagonists as both distraction and pseudo-scapegoats for their big job. This is boring and then some. It features Shannon Elizabeth as the nice one that flirts with Jay, Eliza Dushku doing the Eliza Dushku performance, charisma vacuum Ali Larter and, why not, Kevin Smith’s own wife. Little in the way of comic dividends come from this; many other subplots do.
We get the orangutan, originally teased in Mallrats, Will Ferrell as a bumbling Wildlife Marshal, chase sequence hiinks and an unsuccessful running gag about how a terrorist organization whose initials spell C.L.I.T.
There are funny bits in Strike Back. They aren’t consistent, yet alone frequent. In no small part due to the self-satisfaction with callbacks as the entirety of a joke, swathes of the movie go by without a titter. Jay and Silent Bob aren’t compelling enough to carry a picture themselves, and jokes pointing the fact out don’t innately justify the situation. Additionally, the movie is so 2001 that one has to put yourself back to that time frame to get the jokes. When Ben Affleck, as Ben Affleck, tells Matt Damon’s Matt Damon that doing another movie about horses and golfers isn’t a solid career move, I had to ponder, “Was his career stalling at the time or what?” Add to that gags about Gus Van Sant being a financially sound director to back, Jason Biggs referencing his non-American Pie work and Sean William Scott having a cameo. It’s more of a time capsule than an entertaining time.
One element that has never worked is the thread about how furious Jay and Silent Bob get that people are talking shit about the Bluntman and Chronic movie, in addition to other films/comics. It’s frequently pointed out that these people are losers, probably living in their moms’ basements. In a manner, this would seem prescient of a certain corner of the movie internet community, prone to spending hours discussing films they don’t like instead of discussing the ones they do care for. It entirely comes across as sour grapes however. Calling a picture bad or nitpicking it’s finer elements online is basically an extension of the kind of conversations that once occurred amongst friends hanging out, in magazines or a host of other places. Hell, Smith built his career and continued it by poking and prodding major studio releases. To turn around and have his characters literally beat the crap of people who don’t like his work is a sign of thin skin that doesn’t sit well.
So where does this leave me? What does the fact that one of my favorite film voices of those crazy teenage years no longer has the great list of movies to his name I once thought. I owned Kevin Smith comics about this universe. I had a Berserker t-shirt. My rooms were adorned with a Buddy Christ, a Silent Bob doll and a Jay action figure based on the Clerks cartoon. It was always so easy to state Smith lost his direction after his opening gambit of five movies, struggling with Jersey Girl, Clerks 2 and the like, before taking a turn for the bizarre and horrific in recent years.
I think a love of these movies stems heavily from a number of things. First, Clerks was and is quite hilarious, making the starting point easy. Secondly, Smith’s character discussed a segment of nerdy culture that hadn’t quite hit the mainstream and was harder to discuss before the internet. In 1998, hearing anybody I knew mention an issue of X-Men, Daredevil or The Flash was instantly met with a grin, with only a few friends and the latest of issue of “Wizard” giving me any source to engage in that world. If meandering plots about failed relationships, poor camerawork or bad acting were there, I frankly didn’t notice or care. Smith’s writing came about at the perfect storm of a time for me. Now, I’ll be content to watch Chasing Amy and Clerks if the mood arrives. I can’t foresee sitting down for Mallrats, Dogma or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back again, unless it’s with a big bunch of people who don’t believe me that they are mostly lackluster.