FANBOYS (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Pervasive Crude and Sexual Material, Language and Drug Content

Directed by: Kyle Newman

Written by: Ernest Cline & Adam F. Goldberg

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Kristen Bell, David Denman, Christopher McDonald, Ethan Suplee & Seth Rogen

I am a STAR WARS fan. I had the toys growing up (including a Darth Maul inflatable chair), watched the movies over and over, went to STAR WARS scout camp, and am still geeking out over new installments in the saga. FANBOYS is a comedy that is tailor-made for STAR WARS fans. If you don’t like or aren’t familiar with the series in any way, shape or form, you will probably not dig this movie nearly as much as someone who loves STAR WARS. FANBOYS is a fun, goofy and (at points) oddly heartwarming little road trip film for STAR WARS junkies.

The year is 1998 and four friends have unexpectedly reunited at a Halloween party. Eric (Sam Huntington) is trying to grow up and take care of his father’s car dealership business, while Hutch (Dan Fogler) lives in his mother’s garage, Windows (Jay Baruchel) obsesses over his unseen internet girlfriend, and Linus (Chris Marquette) still holds a long-time grudge against Eric. When Eric is informed that Linus is dying of cancer and has four months to live, he tries to make amends with his former best friend by enacting a plan they’ve had since childhood: breaking into Skywalker Ranch and stealing the work print of STAR WARS Episode I. Their plan is crazy and the guys will encounter lots of wacky scenarios on their journey, all while countless STAR WARS references fly at the screen!

The casting of the four childhood friends is spot-on. Sam Huntington (whose biggest roles appear to have been Jimmy in SUPERMAN RETURNS and Mimi-Siku in JUNGLE 2 JUNGLE) stars as Eric, the straight-man of the group. While most of the film is focused on laughter and movie-related hijinks, Huntington shares an effectively emotional story arc with Chris Marquette’s Linus. Marquette and Huntington’s final scene together beautifully summarizes friendship and fanboy culture in a nutshell, complete with why people love being geeks so much and how movies can bring people together. As Hutch, Dan Fogler is allowed to go over-the-top in his obnoxiousness and mostly thrives in getting laughs. Some of his bits fall flat, but most of them hit right on target…similar to how Luke destroyed the Death Star in Episode IV.

Jay Baruchel plays a geeky nerd character that he’s mostly been typecast as, but receives his own enjoyable story arc and has hands-down one of the most awkwardly funny scenes in the entire film. Kristen Bell also makes a strong impression as Zoe, a STAR WARS fangirl who plays a significantly bigger role during the second half. Keep your eyes peeled for lots of cameos. A few STAR WARS cast members pop up and so do many familiar comedic faces. My favorite moments come from three different characters played by Seth Rogen and a brief snippet from Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. The former is hilarious in his multiple moments, while the latter is hysterically raunchy in his one-minute scene.

FANBOYS milks its 90s setting for nostalgia and retro jokes. There’s the familiar feeling of seeing Mario Kart played on Nintendo 64, having to hook up a phone line to a computer to access the internet, and a kick-ass soundtrack of 90s hits that’s likely to bring back good memories for 90s kids and Generation Y. FANBOYS also pokes fun at how insanely excited people were for Episode I and how much disappointment was around the corner in that movie later being considered the worst Episode. One bit that involves a tattoo of Jar-Jar Binks and Anakin Skywalker is hilarious and the film’s closing line is sure to evoke laughter.

This film is packed to the brim with STAR WARS references, which have been further aided by George Lucas allowing the director to use the saga’s original sound effects. While a police chase ending in a Darth Vader reference is obvious and on-the-nose, other smaller nods stick out too. There are tidbits of STAR WARS trivia that had me scratching my head and saying “Dammit! I used to know this!” Also, there’s a hilarious Darth Maul reference that I completely missed the first time I saw this movie and I immediately caught this time around.

I’m not going to claim that FANBOYS is a perfect film, because the storytelling occasionally seems a tad rushed. While I really enjoy the uplifting emotional arc involving four friends going out for one last adventure, there are moments where it feels shoe-horned in. This could be directly blamed on a troubled production path that had Harvey Weinstein (a.k.a. Harvey Scissorhands) desperate to shred the film to bits, at one point removing the heartwarming subplot entirely and with it, the characters’ main motivation. Being given only 36 hours to assemble a final cut and re-edit the emotional scenes back in, I feel that director Kyle Newman did a damn fine job with this film. FANBOYS is sure to please fans of the STAR WARS saga. If you enjoy STAR WARS, then I highly recommend that you check out FANBOYS for laughs, heart, and undying nostalgia.

Grade: B

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+

YOGA HOSERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Humor, Sexual References, Comic Violence, and brief Drug Material

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne & Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s filmography has recently gone through many odd shifts. Though he gained a loyal fanbase from low-budget comedies like CLERKS and MALLRATS, Smith has entered a horror phase…and this has been a hugely miscalculated move. The best of Smith’s horror efforts is easily RED STATE, a surprisingly strong merging of the Waco siege and the Westboro Baptist Church. 2014’s TUSK was disappointing due to its confused tonal shifts and a plot that seemed to making itself up as it went along. That film featured cameos from Kevin Smith’s daughter and Johnny Depp’s kid as Canadian convenience store clerks. YOGA HOSERS is a semi-sequel to TUSK and serves as a spin-off for that pair of minor characters.

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Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) are best friends, bandmates and co-workers at the Eh-2-Zed convenience store. They bury their faces in their cellphones during school and periodically skip out on their shifts to hold band practice in the backroom. After being invited to a senior party held by preppy Hunter Calloway (Austin Butler), the Colleens’ lives begin to look up…until Colleen C’s father (Tony Hale) forces the two BFF’s to take an unexpected work shift. Missing Hunter’s party won’t be the end of the Colleens’ problems though, because Bratzis (Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up) have risen from the ground. You may be asking: “What’s a Bratzi?” It’s a little Nazi made of bratwurst and the Colleens have to contend with an army of them. Lucky for them, legendary man-hunter Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) is on the case.

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YOGA HOSERS’ plot is kind of difficult to summarize, because there isn’t exactly a straightforward storyline. The film is supposedly about two teenage clerks fighting bratwurst creatures that kill people by going up their butts, yet only a third of the film seems interested in that. The rest is dedicated to the Colleens going about their teenage lives and Johnny Depp mugging for the camera. Kevin Smith unapologetically admitted that this film was a vanity project, but it might have been fun (albeit ridiculously stupid) if there was any semblance of a story. Flashy headache-inducing title cards, two cringe-worthy musical numbers, and lame cut-away jokes constantly interrupt the movie’s already wavering momentum.

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Even though it clocks in at a mercifully short 88 minutes, YOGA HOSERS frequently lags in its pacing and feels much longer as a result. There are a few chuckles that keep the film from becoming a total failure, but these are few and far between. One visual joke seems directly lifted from Mel Brooks’ ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (moles changing around on Johnny Depp’s face), which in turn was actually recycled from the ever-changing hump in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The biggest laugh comes from Haley Joel Osment as Canadian Hitler. The punchline to his single scene is very funny, but that energy vanishes the minute he’s gone. Don’t worry though, because YOGA HOSERS tries to get more wacky laughs by giving us a Nazi villain monologuing through voice impressions of Hollywood actors (ala Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Pacino, etc.). That’s the level we’re at here, folks.

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I can’t judge too harshly on Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith’s performances, because they come off as annoying teenage kids. This was definitely the intention, but it doesn’t automatically turn them into likable ass-kicking heroines. Austin Butler, who resembles Justin Bieber, shows potential in a neat plot twist that showed promise…and is quickly written out by a lazy butt joke. Johnny Depp’s Guy Lapointe was one of the worst things in TUSK, but seems to fit in with the wacky stupidity of YOGA HOSERS. His presence is much more colorful than either of the Colleens anyway. The less said about Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up, the better. Justin Long is serviceable enough as a pretentious strip mall yoga instructor. However, Smith thinks that cameos are the same thing as comedy…which makes for two incredibly out-of-place moments.

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Truthfully, I think that Kevin Smith knows YOGA HOSERS isn’t a good movie. In the Q&A shown before the Fathom Event screening, Smith stated that the film is a midnight movie made for viewers who aren’t allowed to stay up until midnight. He seems to be writing off this film’s bad quality as it being made for kids. I don’t think that’s quite the case. There may be no F-bombs or nudity in this film, but there’s definitely enough sexual innuendos to earn the PG-13 rating (which isn’t exactly perfect for a “kid’s movie”). Even if YOGA HOSERS was actually intended for little girls, quality kid’s films usually entertain older viewers too. How terrible is YOGA HOSERS? Well, let’s just say that a theater filled with hardcore Kevin Smith fans was dead silent for 90% of the running time and I’ll pretty much be ignoring the rest of Kevin Smith’s new movies until he inevitably makes CLERKS III.

Grade: D-

CLERKS (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Extensive use of Extremely Explicit Sex-Related Dialogue

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes & Kevin Smith

I rarely delve into my personal life in my reviews, but it bears mentioning that I have worked in retail for about eight years at this point. I deal with customers every shift that make me want to tear my hair out and I know that I’m not the only one with these sentiments. Kevin Smith suffered through a similar over-the-counter grind, because this film is all about two disgruntled clerks (duh) and their misadventures over the course of one work day. Working on a ridiculously small budget over the space of 21 nights at his place of employment, Kevin Smith constructed one of the funniest comedies to come out of the 90’s. The foul-mouthed, conversation-filled nature of CLERKS might not be for everyone, but it will definitely work for most who have suffered through the hell that is retail work as well as those who want something out of the ordinary in their comedies.

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Dante Hicks is having a rough time. He’s a New Jersey retail clerk who’s been called in on his day off. What started as a six-hour shift quickly consumes Dante’s entire day as he suffers through various aggravating customers and copes with his wise-ass lazy co-worker, Randal. This film is made primarily of conversations between Dante and Randal, Dante and his girlfriend, and between the two disgruntled employees and various customers. In actuality, not much happens in course of CLERKS. The film manages to be wholly entertaining from beginning to end because it’s driven by repulsive hilarity and great dialogue.

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CLERKS feels like it’s simultaneously realistic and exaggerated. Anybody who works in retail can tell you that there are awful shifts populated by dumbasses who somehow don’t consider “lowly” store clerks to be fellow human beings. Smith manages to capture this aggravation as well as the sheer mind-boggling nature of how stupid people can be in one foul swoop. Meanwhile, Smith knows not to keep everything grounded in reality as events quickly spiral out of control into some very dark areas. There’s a scene that comes near the end of the movie (you’ll know it when you see it) that arguably crosses a line. By the time this scene arrives, I had heard so much graphic sexual dialogue that I became slightly numbed to what exactly happened and only afterwards was I thinking something along the lines of “Holy shit! They went there.” It bears mentioning that this film was originally slapped with an NC-17 based purely off the dialogue. The MPAA’s decision was ridiculous from the get-go, but you cannot deny that the film is one of the raunchiest comedies ever produced…and that’s a very good thing depending on your tastes.

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The B&W coloring of CLERKS (something that either cost Smith more money or was done on the cheap) lends a sense of real-world grittiness to the movie that blends into the down-to-earth tone of the story. Aside from the dirty dialogue, cool style, and grassroots nature of CLERKS, the best part and the only flaw both come from the performances. We’ve all known people like Dante, played by Brian O’Halloran. He’s a young guy lamenting the fact that he seems to be going nowhere in life, but doesn’t exactly have the balls to change anything about that. Meanwhile, Randal (first-time actor Jeff Anderson, who originally auditioned as a joke) is someone who we’ve also encountered in the workplace. He’s a lazy, smart-ass who has somehow managed to keep his job in spite of his horrible attitude and rude behavior towards customers. The rest of the characters are made up of Dante’s friends and random customers…except for Jay and Silent Bob! This film introduced those iconic pot-dealing characters and they weren’t fully what they are now. In fact, I’d argue that their very presence slightly distracts from the jokes that work. However, this can be forgiven when you consider what the characters eventually evolved into.

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Have you ever had a hellish day/night at a retail job? Good, then you can relate to CLERKS. Have you ever had awkward discussions with insufferable co-workers about inappropriate topics? Good, then you can relate to CLERKS. Do you laugh or joke about these experiences now? Good, then you’re likely to love CLERKS. It’s a cheap film composed of profanity-filled conversations about pornography, STAR WARS, relationship woes, and the various dumbasses you encounter at any retail job. Taken as such, it’s wholly enjoyable and near-perfect movie.

Grade: A

DOGMA (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language including Sex-Related Dialogue, Violence, Crude Humor and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith & George Carlin

When one thinks of Kevin Smith, the first thoughts are probably dick jokes and iconic stoner pals: Jay and Silent Bob. DOGMA has those, but it also has a lot more than I initially expected. After years of this flick being recommended by friends, I thought this was going to be Kevin Smith skewing religion with his usually dirty sense of humor. Instead, DOGMA comes off as a sort of fantasy comedy that is both funny and oddly sweet. The content might border on offensive (the image of Buddy Christ has become a meme by now), but it also has a super rare quality of being so clever and creative that it should please both skeptics and believers. DOGMA is one of Smith’s best films.

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Bethany Sloane seems like the last person God would call on to take a holy pilgrimage. Bethany goes to church purely out of habit, but has little faith in God. To be even more ironic, she works at an abortion clinic. Nevertheless, Metatron (the voice of God) informs her that she is go on a quest that all existence hinges on. Thanks to a recent loophole, two fallen angels (Loki and Bartleby) might have found a way back into heaven and it’s up to Bethany to stop them from reaching the gateway in New Jersey (of all places). Aided by the black unknown thirteenth apostle, the stripper Serendipity, and two prophets (Jay and Silent Bob), Bethany races against time to stop these two fallen angels from ruining all of existence.

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DOGMA is a crazy movie that manages to be sweet, silly, and crude all at the same time. The plot is extremely detailed, throwing in lots of mythological figures and Catholic beliefs together for a wild ride. Seeing as this is ultimately about a reluctant heroine hired by the voice of God to stop two evil angels, you might expect some violence, but DOGMA has more than its fair share of that. This film can be pretty bloody at points and Smith never once loses the sense to keep everything light-hearted.

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The film is loaded with a strong cast given colorful roles. Bethany (Linda Florentino) is a surprisingly compelling lead and one of the stronger heroines I’ve seen in a film of this type. Of course, there’s Jay and Silent Bob as main characters this time around. These are arguably the funniest moments of Jay and Silent Bob in the View Askewniverse (a fictional universe that also holds the CLERKS films and MALLRATS). Then there’s Ben Affleck and Matt Damon playing Bartleby and Loki. The pair play well off each other and that should come as no surprise given their film history at that point. These two make for some interesting villains as they aren’t necessarily all-out bad guys. They do kill people, but there are stipulations (they have to be semi-serious sinners) and there’s real motivation as to why they’d want to return to heaven (that doesn’t involve destroying the universe). Chris Rock is funny as the thirteenth apostle, Salma Hayek is a tad underused as Serendipity, and the same goes for Jason Lee as a demon. The big stand-outs (at least for me) are a sarcastic Alan Rickman as the voice of God and George Carlin in the side role as a business-driven Cardinal.

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The film does feel a little long and this is primarily due to a couple of unneeded scenes that were almost as if Kevin Smith was working backwards from the cool story he had built. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the inclusion of a poop monster. This scene served next to no purpose and supplied more than all of the potty humor the film needed. The frantic details being thrown at the viewer in the opening might be a little hard to follow, but everything connects and makes sense as the rest of the film plays out. I was surprised at how well Smith executed emotional scenes, including one stand-out moment before the final third starts. This scene didn’t feel like it even came from Smith and that’s a huge compliment, because it was absent of humor and had a touching side to it. It only served to make the rest of the film more entertaining and interesting.

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The biggest accomplishment that DOGMA pulls off is that it’s a fantastic comedy that should please both atheists and the religious (at least, those with a sense of humor) for similar reasons. It pokes fun at the mythology and beliefs of religion, but also doesn’t condemn it. This is a well-written film that ranks as one of Kevin Smith’s best works. Those afraid that DOGMA is sacrilegious should have their fears put to rest. Smith addresses that concern early on by pointing out that God clearly has a sense of humor. Just look at sex and the platypus.

Grade: A-

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