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Movie-watching has always demanded a tolerance for solipsism, but even fans of Kevin Smith may allow that the freedom Clerks won him (to pontificate, navel-gaze, spritz fart spray, what have you) is riotously disproportionate to that film’s achievements and Smith’s crispy capabilities at large. His new comedy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, will not, at any rate, muster any converts. Stunning in its guileless self-love, Smith’s doodle-movie shows virtually no sign of being made for an audience. The 90-minute by-product of Smith’s let’s-shoot-a-movie pot party can be mystifying—we’ve all stood soberly by as high friends guffaw at nothing in particular, but now we can pay for the privilege.
Smith’s egomania extends not to the deification of himself as a film persona (although the movie clocks in for a Silent Bob reaction shot every five seconds), but to the reverence for his old movies and characters. JASBSB is jerry-rigged upon the loose sand of Dogma, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, and Clerks, but Smith’s minor-key New Jersey mythos offers up only dick jokes, incestuous nods, and cameos. To put it mildly, Jay and Silent Bob themselves are iconic creations only in Smith’s head, a sub-Warholian celebrity-invention dynamic that tries to make up in toilet gags what it lacks in irony. (Shaping an entire movie around the toasty duo is as enlightened as basing a movie on National Lampoon‘s O.C. and Stiggs, as Robert Altman did in 1985, but not half as interesting as imagining a third Bill & Ted film.) The new film—in which J. & S.B. road-trip to Hollywood to halt the production of Bluntman & Chronic: The Movie—is self-consciously pointless (not to mention pathetically blowjob-phobic), but Jason Mewes’s Jay shoves the non-aesthetic into fresh degrees of medieval torture. As the babbling half of the pair, Mewes hasn’t much improved as a comic line-reader since his first bellicose riff in front of the convenience store, and Jay remains a lame stoner caricature. Since Smith’s Bob is indeed speechless, Mewes dominates the new movie, and after an hour it feels like a woodchuck is chewing on your brain stem.
Smith readily admits that he might be the most inept working filmmaker in America, but at least his earlier scripts had bite and drive. Here, the cock-&-pussy gibber-jabber gets punctuated only by endless pans up actresses’ legs and too much nuzzling with an orangutan, and more or less culminates with a parade of Miramax talent, trotted out in self-deprecating guest appearances like the Warner stable in Thank Your Lucky Stars. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, on the set of Good Will Hunting 2, steal the whole shithouse simply by delivering their quips like professionals.
Smith’s anticlimax finds the eponymous goofs joining Morris Day and the Time (of all people) in concert, as if they were teens in a ’60s beach movie. Jerry Zucker’s Rat Race has an identically lazy, retrograde ending, in which a dozen or so greedy grovelers (Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, etc.), speeding from Vegas to an Arizona train-station locker packed with $2 million, end up onstage with Smash Mouth. As rips of Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World go, Zucker’s frenzied trifle is painless, with a few decent running gags (a busload of whining conventioneers in Lucy drag; a secret club of wealthy gamblers who will wager on any absurd contingency) and an ocean of bad ones. It smells, rather mustily, of the ’60s, back when slapstick involving a hot-air balloon seemed outrageous.
Les Mayfield’s unintentionally wry American Outlaws just smells—of filmmaking manure as well as yard-sale revisionism. “The James Gang is a kind of rock and roll band out on the road for their first tour…” exec-producer Jonathan Zimbert says in the press notes, telling you all you need to know about how this teenage anti-anti-western was conceived and executed. Walter Hill’s dour version of the James-Younger spree, The Long Riders, suffers no challenge from this bratty crap, which dares to allow the famously slaughtered fugitives to triumphantly survive after stopping Jesse’s prison train with a cannon. As Jesse, Colin Farrell tries to execute his gift for conviction, but the movie’s presumption of ignorance on the audience’s part is monumental.