Review Askewniverse

I picked up Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back last week, but before I blew a whopping $2.99 for the thing I wondered whether the two discs were really worth a low price. Of course, three bucks for any double-disc set is usually worth it. But I felt compelled by my own jabs at the director — and their ensuing contradiction with my bargain purchase — to revisit the less-than-savory side of Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse. After all, a guy with this rabid of a following has to be onto something. Right?


Jay and Silent Bob is an unapologetic 100 minute extension of two very entertaining, and very minor, ancillary characters from Smith’s “Jersey Chronicles” of films. And I really do mean unapologetic. From its peppering of fart jokes to the smattering of stoner humor and the pillaging of Shannon Elizabeth’s knockout status, Jay and Silent Bob should by all means be a one-note travesty that panders to the lowest common denominator. In a lot of ways it is, just not completely. If this film succeeds on any level, it is through its criticism of… well, everybody: Scream; Good Will Hunting, especially Ben Affleck and Matt Damon; Dawson’s Creek; Star Wars; the ironic love-hate relationship of film criticism and sad movie bloggers. The film’s best scene involves the stoner protagonists running into Affleck’s Holden McNeil — himself a callback to Smith’s Chasing Amy — where he unleashes a barrage of insults on the sheer stupidity behind the prospect of making a Jay and Silent Bob movie:

There’s something to be admired about Kevin Smith in what I presume here is a handsome mouthpiece. Affleck’s ability to rip himself a new one is always appreciated, however general self-deprecation grows in abundance, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the film’s criticism of itself. If there’s a sole target of Jay and Silent Bob’s irreverent criticism, it is squarely of its own existence.

Despite its in-references and meta-nature though, Jay and Silent Bob is not a good film, in part from its boring second act. Normally, the injection of Will Ferrell — here as a Federal Wildlife Marshal — into anything ought to liven up the comedic factor, but the contrived presence of a orangutan dampens his impact, and much of the film is left to skirt on the titular characters’ crude responses in awkward situations. There’s no effort to separate in-jokes from the diegesis and for all its criticism, the film doesn’t so much as mutter a definitive statement. If Smith has anything to say here, he’s answering the glaring question of why a movie about two stoners and a monkey was made in the first place. For all involved, that answer is a very self-aware WHY THE FUCK NOT.

With all the schlock that Hollywood already churns out, the internal criticism comes as a relief, especially when paired with Smith’s jabs at the industry. In a hauntingly spot-on observation, Mallrats‘ Brodie Bruce — like Affleck, Jason Lee plays two separate characters — postulates that after the success of X-Men, studios would inevitably purchase as many character rights as they could get their grubby little hands on. While early decade releases like Daredevil don’t exactly constitute tentpole franchises, it’s hard to look back at the past ten years and not see Smith as some overweight, niche version of a twenty-first century Nostradamus.

Bear with me as I wrestle with that observation.

“Clerks is drawn before a live studio audience.”

While Jay and Silent Bob embraced the utter juvenalia of its two protagonist stoner heroes, 1994’s Clerks sketched the disillusionment of an up and coming generation. So if you were to ask that same “glaring question of why” here, I’m not sure Smith would have an answer for you. As much as I laugh at the jokes in the unnecessary Clerks II, I certainly don’t have one. Clerks: The Animated Series was an ill-fated spinoff attempt to port Smith’s first film onto television, and its termination comes as no surprise. Once Smith made that first statement in 1994, there really wasn’t anywhere else to go from there.

Or so one would think.

The series’ first chapter– no, the entire six-chapter series so far as I could discern from 10 minutes of internet scrounging — is bereft of what the Hollywood squares would dub a ‘title.’ Dante, screwed once more out of his off day, and Randall, screwing with everyone on any day, bear witness to the return of Alec Baldwin’s Leonardo Leonardo, a hometown golden boy and dead ringer for a Count Dooku/Bela Lugosi love child. Initially, Dante and Randall are relieved when the very customers they despise begin flocking away from the Quick Stop to Leonardo’s upstart Quicker Stop. The premise is a clever example of wish fulfillment for our indifferent duo, but also a preservation of Clerks‘ criticism of American consumer culture.

Navigating the show’s brief six-episode run length is still a programming morass, as ABC refused to air more than two of them, and even those were censored and shown out of production order. Clerks‘ second episode rehashes Dante’s “day off” protestations, albeit to the nth degree. His room bathed in dirty laundry, Dante’s dog is actually the one in bed, and his owner has begrudingly taken to the floor. This is familiar territory, but I think that’s a good thing. Penned with Paul Dini of Batman: The Animated Series fame, Smith and Seinfeld‘s David Mandel really bare their teeth in this. Ushering in a string of cutaways and flashbacks, the second chapter tears into those Friends episodes that constructed flimsy narratives around past highlights. Unlike NBC programming however, having only one episode under your belt is plenty for the Askewniverse. They’ll just make stuff up to throw in anyway:

The show’s intentions seem well ahead of its time, using the sitcom format to comment on the genre itself, and with such a striking similarity to many of Community‘s quirks, it’s worth wondering how an outlet like the A.V. Club would have received Clerks had it run today. Who am I kidding, would this ever succeed? Much of the material is too self-referential, and when it’s not making in-jokes, Clerks is just plain blunt. Of course Dante and Randall thwart a masked agenda in that first twenty-two minute episode, but not because Leonardo’s Frankenstein of a shopping center and its surplus of Matryoshka-styled coffee bars is driving the Quick Stop under. They don’t want their customers back anymore than Dante wants to roll out from under his laundry every morning; Leonardo is just a pompous dick that needs to be taken down, and likably lazy our antiheroes remain.

You can blame my appreciation on Dini’s involvement or the animation style’s striking resemblance to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars miniseries, but there’s a lot to appreciate about Smith’s brief foray into television. Perhaps, it’s because his cel-shaded characters never soapbox against online critics with that same ferocity of Holden McNeil.

Then again, why would that kind of a soapbox offend me?

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