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Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

#457 - Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Kevin Smith, 2001

When a pair of low-level drug dealers find out that a comic book loosely based on their lives is being turned into a movie, they set out for Hollywood in order to stop production on the movie.

I don't think I've seen Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back all the way through in at least a decade and not since I first went through a Kevin Smith phase that involved me watching his first five films (Jersey Girl's reputation put me off watching it for a long time), all of which take place in the same inter-connected cinematic universe that is colloquially referred to as the "View Askewniverse" in reference to Smith's View Askew production company. The most prominent connection between the Askewniverse films is of course Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), a pair of marijuana dealers who play a classic comedy odd couple. Jay is rude, talkative, and not very bright, whereas Silent Bob lives up to his name as a perpetually mute character who tends to communicate through small gestures and generally comes across as smarter and more polite than Jay. The two of them have played supporting roles of various sizes in Smith's other films, though here they get to be the leads as they set out on their own adventure after they finally get banned from their favourite spot to hang out and deal - the Quick Stop from Clerks. They soon learn that Bluntman and Chronic, a superhero comic based on their actual selves, is being turned into a movie and is prompting anonymous Internet commentors to start mocking the duo themselves. Naturally, Jay and Silent Bob decide to trek from New Jersey to Hollywood in order to stop the movie from being made and therefore stop people making fun of them on the Internet.

The plot of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is fundamentally rooted in metafictional irony - it's a Jay and Silent Bob movie that ends up being about sabotaging the people who are making a Jay and Silent Bob movie. This spreads to the jokes that leave no target untouched in search of a laugh. There are many call-backs to other Smith films, self-deprecation, biting-the-hand humour aimed at Hollywood (especially Miramax, who produced this film), random pop-cultural parodies ranging from Charlie's Angels to Scooby-Doo, and when all else fails there's some easy juvenile humour thanks to its two immature leads. Indeed, it seems like the most genuine laughs I got out of this film now can be credited to Jay and his tendency towards either spouting foul-mouthed one-liners (case in point - the scene where he and Silent Bob get online and write their own response to the Internet trolls) or ending up on the receiving end of some rather painful and humiliating circumstances (such as his surprise encounter with "the Cock-Knocker", who does exactly what you'd expect). Unfortunately, easy jokes at the expensive of the more insufferable member of the leading duo only throw into sharp relief how bad the film ends up being when it tries to genuinely be clever. A blatant example is how the film recycles the "movie character complains about movie's badness before facing the camera and staring" gag from Top Secret! at least three times, but plenty of the barbs end up failing, especially when they invoke self-deprecation. This much is clear with Chris Rock playing a militant black director whose cracks about Hollywood's inherent flaws just tend to induce groans and fond memories of when Smith could actually write decent jokes for characters like Hooper X from Chasing Amy or Rufus from Dogma.

On that note, so many of the call-backs to earlier Smith films just feel horribly forced, especially since the film with the greatest relevance to the wacky stoner-buddy road movie adventure of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ends up being the extremely tragicomic and realistic relationship drama that is Chasing Amy. Even the parodic non sequiturs based on films like The Fugitive and Planet of the Apes tend to fall flat more often than not and do feel like weak padding (the best example of this being the Scooby-Doo segment, which could easily have been cut without anyone noticing). The biting-the-hand humour that starts appearing in droves once the pair finally reach Hollywood also leaves a lot to be desired even as it parodies iconic Miramax properties like Good Will Hunting or Scream and the people involved in making them (such as indie darling Gus Van Sant being too busy counting out stacks of cash to actually direct - ho ho). That's without getting into how weak the sub-plot involving the van full of female jewel thieves posing as environmentalists tends to be even for a broad comedy, though at least that gives us Will Ferrell in one of his more bearable roles as an incompetent wildlife marshall intent on chasing down the pair. That's without getting started on how downright obnoxious the film's tendency towards resorting to gay jokes can be regardless of any spontaneously amused reactions one might get out of them.

While Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back isn't the worst movie that Kevin Smith ever made, knowing that he intended it to be the final film in the View Askewniverse does make me feel that this is really is the beginning of the end for Smith as it showcases a lot of the same narrative and comedic flaws that would be exacerbated to greater levels in each subsequent film (with the possible exceptions of Clerks II and Red State, which I contend are the only truly decent films he's made in the past fifteen years). Jay and Bob make for funny enough comic-relief characters in other movies (and I'm not just saying that so that they don't threaten to find me and kick my ass), but in trying to fill an entire feature-length film about them he throws in just about everything that he hopes will stick and the film ultimately becomes a serious mess as a result. It did get enough laughs out of me so as not to be a total failure as a comedy, but they are stretched far too thin across this film's running time to make it a genuinely decent film. It also made me feel like re-watching Purple Rain, for whatever that's worth.