During interviews in support of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot—filmmaker Kevin Smith's latest comedy featuring the stoner duo who first appeared 25 years ago in his debut movie Clerks—both Smith and his daughter (Harley Quinn Smith, one of the film's stars) have compared it to Avengers: Endgame. They have done so not because of any claim to the same scope or even quality as the Marvel monolith, but because of the position it holds in the canon of a shared universe—in this case, the "View Askewniverse," which Smith has been personally cultivating for decades. And in that way, the comparison is apt.
The shared universe of View Askew Productions movies began with Clerks in 1994, although it wasn't until 1995's Mallrats that anybody would have known there was more of it to come. That film included the characters of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), the two drug dealers who had appeared in Clerks. They were toned down a bit (but just a bit) for Mallrats and served more as general mischief-makers in the movie, which was both sillier and more over-the-top than Clerks had been.
Jay and Bob, along with numerous other references to shared characters and events within the View Askewniverse would recur in Chasing Amy and Dogma before the duo finally got their own movie in 2001's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The premise was that, because the comic book artists in Chasing Amy had based a pair of stoner superheroes on Jay and Bob, an upcoming comic book movie based on "Bluntman and Chronic" had caused random fans on the internet to bash the characters' "one-note" alter egos, not realizing that Jay and Bob were, in fact, real people. The pair, unable to take criticism from randos on the internet, traveled to Hollywood in order to try to prevent the film from being made at all. Along the way, the pair had a number of episodic adventures, met up with friends and foes from other movies as well as new ones, and Jay found romance with a jewel thief named Justice (Shannon Elizabeth).
Fast forward almost 20 years and you finally get to the reason we're here: Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. The premise is that, because comic book movies are all the rage in Hollywood and the comic book artists in Chasing Amy had based a pair of stoner superheroes on Jay and Bob in the '90s, an upcoming reboot of the 2001 movie Bluntman and Chronic had led to a complicated series if inconveniences for the pair who, unable to accept being singled out for such abuse, travel to Hollywood in order to try to prevent the film from being made at all. Along the way, the pair have a number of episodic adventures, meet up with friends and foes from other movies as well as new ones, and Jay finds that he is the father of a child named Millie (Harley Quinn Smith), whom Justice had raised without ever telling him.
That's a lot of information just to set up a movie review, but the View Askewniverse is not the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These are not billion-dollar blockbusters that everybody has seen (or at least has cultural context for). The world of Kevin Smith's movies could use some explaining for casual viewers, and those three paragraphs of exposition more or less set you up for what is both the movie's biggest strength and its biggest weakness: it really is the Avengers: Endgame to the universe born in Clerks.
That is true both in the good ways; it is an emotionally fulfilling (and sometimes even melancholy) conclusion to a character arc that would have seemed wildly unlikely at the start of the story; it is smart and well-made, with a number of complicated puzzle pieces being fit together, and it is well-acted and offers a potential conclusion while simultaneously promising that the world will continue on, and in a more complicated way: it would be difficult to fully grasp what you are looking at if you came in off the street with little or no knowledge of Smith's oeuvre.
In 1999, Dogma featured George Carlin, Chris Rock, and Alan Rickman alongside Ben Affleck and Matt Damon fresh off Good Will Hunting and Linda Fiorentino fresh from Men in Black. That film, which was plotted around the same time as Clerks and required very little understanding of the other movies, was arguably Smith's peak in terms of mainstream appeal. He followed it up, two years later, with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which depended on fans to be able to identify characters from Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy as well as understanding in-jokes developed in those movies and Dogma. This included differentiating the same actors playing multiple characters, since Smith has a recurring troupe of actors he likes to work with, so a crossover film inevitably means Jason Lee playing both Brodie Bruce from Mallrats and Banky Edwards from Chasing Amy. At the time, there was an argument that Smith had squandered the goodwill and new audience members from Dogma by immediately making a movie a bunch of them couldn't understand, all in the interest of making a movie that appealed to Smith, his friends, and his most die-hard fans.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is that concept on steroids. For longtime fans of Smith's work, it is hard to imagine a more perfect movie. It's funny, heartfelt, meta, and includes at least one character from every movie he has done in the last quarter-century. It provides closure to characters you have been wondering about for years and for characters you didn't even know needed it, and it does all of this while remaining wickedly funny.
Reboot also manages the episodic elements—with Jay and Bob hopping from place to place to meet with various characters around the world—better than Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back did, with those leaps feeling a bit less abrupt and, as a result, the pacing and flow of the story being overall better. At a certain age, too, both Smith and his fans expect a little bit more from these characters than just getting the girl, and Smith delivers and reinvents that notion with Jay's daughter and her friends, giving him an unexpectedly emotional arc that both Mewes and Harley Quinn Smith act the hell out of.
In the interest of, as Brodie Bruce explains at one point, taking something audiences love and adding youth and diversity to it, Millie has a group of friends along for the ride. Her best friend is a deaf girl played by Treshelle Edmond, in a pretty clear mimicry of the Jay and Silent Bob dynamic, which is quite effective. The actors in this younger troupe are great, with a real standout performance by Aparna Brielle, and it's easy to see how they might pop back up in future movies, if that's the way Smith opts to go.
Like Avengers: Endgame, the bar for admission may be a little high—if you haven't seen Smith's movies, and especially if you haven't seen Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a lot of the jokes will miss for you—but if you understand what you're watching, you're bound to love it. And, also like Endgame, an argument could be made that this is, if not Smith's best film, then at least the best one if you're already a fan.0comments
Rating: 5 out of 5
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot will begin screening at special events on October 15th.