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+

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

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue, Graphic Nudity and Pervasive Language

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Jeff Anderson, Katie Morgan, Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Tyler Labine & Tom Savini

Kevin Smith is one of those filmmakers whose stories either work for you or they don’t. Some people love his dirty-minded movies with a heart of gold and others see him as a bit of a so-so storyteller. Personally, I’ll try everything this man does at least once. CLERKS II and RED STATE were his last two great films in my opinion as some of his output has been a tad lackluster in the last decade. ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is a prime example of a movie that has spurts of comic brilliance, but ultimately falls victim to Smith sticking too close to a familiar formula playing out in predictable fashion.

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Zack and Miri have been friends since elementary school and live together strictly as roommates. The two have no interest in forming any kind of romantic relationship and sex is off the table. After circumstances get dire and they find unpaid bills stacking up to an insane degree, the two buy into a crazy idea of filming their own pornography and banking on it to save themselves from the impending possibility of being homeless. The process of making this no-budget adult film requires enlisting a crew of colorful characters (some of which are played by real-life porn stars). Zack and Miri’s friendship gets more complicated as they discover there might be unexpected feelings between them. The plot plays out in typical rom-com ways, even if the idea of making your own porn isn’t necessarily a staple in this genre.

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I’ll get the good qualities out first. Fortunately, there are a lot of positives in this flick. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks have great chemistry together. I bought them as lifelong friends and could understand why they wouldn’t necessarily want to risk screwing their friendship up with sex. They seem feed off each other and the cast members around them. The other performers include Craig Robinson, Jeff Anderson (who does not play his usual Randall character from CLERKS or anything resembling him). Jason Mewes steals the show in the role of a low-IQ, but sweet-natured porn star enlisted for Zach and Miri’s little endeavor. One of the best scenes in the film is in the opening 20 minutes and involves a hilariously graphic conversation with a briefly glimpsed Justin Long. This is the nicest thing I can say about this movie: Everything works perfectly in setting up the scenario and Smith’s witty dialogue is in full form…for the first 25 minutes or so. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to how strong this film opens.

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Two main things keep ZACK AND MIRI from reaching potential greatness or even stacking up with better comedies in the new millennium. The story falls victim to the rom-com formula and there are stretches of the film that didn’t even get a chuckle out of me. From the start, everyone watching the movie pretty much knows where Zack and Miri will be at the end of the film and Smith doesn’t necessarily do anything to derail those expectations. To be fair, CHASING AMY and CLERKS II didn’t hold any surprises in this way either, but they did provide awesome plot threads and keep the viewer rolling with laughter. ZACK AND MIRI doesn’t do this as well. The handful of long stretches not containing a single laugh also put a damper on the whole scenario. It should also be noted this is a really dirty movie, as if you couldn’t guess that from the title. Smith fully pushes the R rating to its limits in sexual content and graphic dialogue, more so than in something as gross as CLERKS II.

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ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO isn’t Kevin Smith’s finest hour and it was intended to be the film that pushed him into more mainstream success. Instead, the film starts off very strong, then drags for a bit, and ends with a satisfying climax (pun fully intended). I had fun watching this film and it’s a good date movie, if your date doesn’t mind a whole lot of crude humor. The biggest issue is that the rest of the film couldn’t live up to the level of its opening 25 minutes. ZACK AND MIRI ends up being a decent rom-com weighed down by the two major problems already mentioned.

Grade: B-

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