JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Nonstop Crude and Sexual Humor, Pervasive Strong Language, and Drug Content

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Shannon Elizabeth, Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, Jennifer Schwalbach, Will Ferrell & Jason Lee

After starring as memorable supporting characters in four movies, stoners Jay and Silent Bob became the main players in Kevin Smith’s fifth View Askewniverse flick. Lampooning countless films, featuring a bevy of cameos, and resembling an R-rated cartoon, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK isn’t necessarily Kevin Smith’s most heartfelt or well-written effort. Instead, this is a stoner comedy that focuses on being entertaining and funny. It accomplishes both of those things in spades.

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Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) have spent most of their lives peddling pot outside of the Quick Stop convenience store (from CLERKS). When pissed-off employee Randall (Jeff Anderson) slaps them with a restraining order, the two stoners find themselves looking for a new place to hang out. This leads them to a comic book store…which in turn leads them to discover that they are the basis for upcoming superhero blockbuster BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC. Unfortunately, Jay and Silent Bob never received their big Hollywood check and, to make matters worse, anonymous internet trolls are calling them names. Jay and Silent Bob decide to travel from New Jersey to Hollywood in order to stop the film from being made…or at least receive some cash. This road trip leads the pair of stoners to a stolen orangutan, a group of sexy jewel thieves, a loose-cannon wildlife marshal (Will Ferrell), and lots of movie references.

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JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK isn’t going to win over anyone who already hates Kevin Smith. This film was tailor-made for Smith fans who already loved the titular pair of stoners/drug-dealers in CLERKS, MALLRATS, CHASING AMY and DOGMA. The film isn’t as grounded as CLERKS or CHASING AMY, but it’s definitely not as fantastically outlandish as DOGMA. JAY AND SILENT BOB plays everything as a goofy stoner comedy, defying logic and physics when it results in a laugh or furthers the plot along. I’d like to think of this film as Kevin Smith’s equivalent to HAROLD AND KUMAR before there was even HAROLD AND KUMAR. It’s JAY AND SILENT BOB GO TO HOLLYWOOD with lots of stupid humor, general craziness and tons of movie references. I can’t even begin to tell you how many movie references and big name cameos are in this film.

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One of my favorite moments lambasts the then-upcoming SCOOBY DOO flick. There’s also a hilarious chase through the Miramax backlot that’s more than a tad reminiscent of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and also serves as an excuse for plenty of in-jokes. My point is that JAY AND SILENT BOB is hardly original. The plot is a giant road trip and intentionally borrows from many other movies. However, JAY AND SILENT BOB is well-made where it counts, in being funny and entertaining the whole way through. Whether it’s three of the best fourth wall jokes I’ve seen in a film or the sheer absurdity of a romance between Jay and a hot criminal with a heart of gold (Shannon Elizabeth), this film just worked for me. Is it stupid? Absolutely. Is it Kevin Smith’s best movie? Not at all. Did Jay and Silent Bob really deserve their own feature? Probably not. Yet, this film still inexplicably manages to be funny and engaging for well over 90 minutes.

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It’s also worth noting that JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK predicted the future in regards to internet trolls bitching about superhero movies for the sake of bitching about superhero movies. The flick makes that into the main plot point behind Jay and Silent Bob’s nationwide quest to Hollywood, also providing colorful profanity and insults along the way. Though it’s far from Kevin Smith’s best movie in the View Askewniverse (I think that title will always belong to CLERKS), JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK is highly entertaining for Smith fans. Film references, gross sexual humor (one joke about a cup broke me into a hysterical fit of laughter), the screenplay’s sporadic craziness, and the buddy-pairing of real-life friends Jason Mewes (foul-mouthed Jay) and Kevin Smith (almost mute Silent Bob) make this film well worth watching!

Grade: B+

TO DIE FOR (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, and for Language

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Directed by: Gus Van Sant

Written by: Buck Henry

(based on the novel TO DIE FOR by Joyce Maynard)

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Illeana Douglas, Alison Folland, Dan Hedaya & Wayne Knight

TO DIE FOR, inspired by the insane true story of Pamela Smart, is a weird movie to say the least. Gus Van Sant takes the basis of a wicked crime and manipulative villainess, then adds a mockumentary approach that doesn’t quite mesh well with the story being told. A blending of darkly comedic elements, quirky stylistic choices, and a sinister edge make for an oddball little film that just happens to be inspired by a real-life sociopath. TO DIE FOR is unique, weird, and one-of-a-kind…but also a tonal mess.

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Since her childhood, Suzanne Stone has always wanted to be the center of attention on TV. This goal-oriented, go-getter with delusions of grandeur won’t let anything get in the way of her career…and that includes her bartender husband who just wants to live a simple life as a restaurant owner with Suzanne by his side. Stone’s career as a small town weather girl and media consultant at a high school are not enough as she dreams of being a national news anchor for CNN. This leads her to recruit three teenagers to kill her husband which has unpredictable consequences for everyone involved.

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Gus Van Sant’s mockumentary approach hinders TO DIE FOR’s tension in a lot of ways. We are told upfront through newspaper articles in the opening credits what Suzanne Stone has done and therefore nothing is left to be much of a surprise. The film too often focuses on unneeded “interviews” with the characters in which they talk about a scene and then we see that exact moment play out. It diffuses any ounce of good suspense that could have been built. I can’t help but imagine that TO DIE FOR might have played much better as a traditional narrative, but there’s also a scathing satirical view (about how the media sensationalizes crime and killers) that’s hard to ignore as well. Danny Elfman’s whimsical score works perfectly during key moments, but can also be very distracting. There are fantastic stylistic choices throughout in framing, colors, and a climactic scene that works flawlessly in spite of all the problems surrounding the rest of the film.

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For every negative that can be said about TO DIE FOR, I don’t think anybody can fault Nicole Kidman’s stellar performance as the deluded narcissistic Suzanne Stone. If there’s one reason to watch this movie, it’s definitely Kidman’s portrayal of this sociopath woman with no identifiable moral compass and no problems in hurting other people to get her way. On the opposite end of the spectrum, everyone else in this film feels like they’re from a totally different movie. Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck and Alison Folland all play stereotypical dumb teenagers and that’s about it. Matt Dillon doesn’t do much to sell his nice guy husband, who comes off as an annoying idiot…which is probably not the direction that Van Sant originally hoped for. It helps if the viewer feels sympathy towards the victim in a murder case, even if that person wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. TO DIE FOR is populated by a whole lot of irritating characters with the exception of Kidman’s charismatic psycho-bitch.

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TO DIE FOR left me with a lot of mixed feelings. On one hand, the story here is really interesting. On the other, suspense is compromised multiple times by the mockumentary approach that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense by the end of the film (there are a couple of plot holes). There’s a Danny Elfman score that works in some scenes, but ruins others. Nicole Kidman gives a stellar performance as a well-fleshed out femme fatale, but everyone else feels wooden or clichéd. Overall, TO DIE FOR is a severely mixed bag that’s worth watching once if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

Grade: C+

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