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+

SOUTHLAND TALES (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence, Sexual Material and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Richard Kelly

Written by: Richard Kelly

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, Kevin Smith, Jon Lovitz & Amy Poehler

Richard Kelly has become a low-rent M. Night Shyamalan. He blew a lot of people away with DONNIE DARKO (similar to how Shyamalan blew everyone away with SIXTH SENSE) and was hailed as an interesting new filmmaker. However, he quickly squandered this reputation away by making crappy overblown movies (that looked good) and not realizing when his stories were in drastic need of a rewrite. The difference between Kelly and Shyamalan is that Shayamalan made three good films before disappointing audiences and Kelly let them down with his second feature. SOUTHLAND TALES premiered at Cannes 2006 to horrible reviews and booing (which isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary as even Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION was heckled at the festival). It took a year for the studio to release this film afterwards to which I can only imagine their discussions were something along the line of “Just do it quickly…like a Band-Aid and then this pain will be over.” SOUTHLAND TALES is a colossal, mind-boggling failure of a film on every conceivable level. This isn’t so bad it’s good, this is so bad it will make you question what anybody on the set was thinking.

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Set in an alternative history, the United States has been forever changed since 2005 nuclear attacks on Texas. This led to a military regime taking over America, states being treated like individual countries, and harmful alternative fuels being created. It is now 2008 and the USA is on the brink of chaos. Boxer Santaros is an actor, suffering from memory loss, who has been sucked into a group of neo-Marxist extremists. Alongside another neo-Marxist (impersonating a police officer), Boxer finds himself in a confusing tangled web of conspiracy, power struggles, and all sorts of craziness. Oh, he’s also aided by a psychic ex-porn star and there are other sub-plots weaving in and out of Boxer’s journey. That’s the condensed version of this plot, because I really think Richard Kelly didn’t know what the hell he was doing while writing/filming this epic-length mess of a movie.

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I should have known that I was in trouble from the get-go as the story begins with a 10-minute-long prologue that spews exposition like it’s going out of style. Usually science-fiction films will introduce the world in a few short minutes and then incorporate the crazy technology and profound concepts into the story in an effective (sometimes, subtle) manner. That’s not the case in SOUTHLAND TALES as the lengthy prologue is just the tip of the iceberg. Justin Timberlake (who was fairly new to the acting scene at the time of this film) pops in and out to guide us through the story as best he can. His efforts are all in vain as this is entirely nonsensical and confusing. Some may argue that there’s a deeper meaning to everything in the film (right down the repeated phrase of “pimps don’t commit suicide”), but I’d argue that Richard Kelly didn’t have anyone to reign in his ambition on this project. He tried to cram way too many concepts, ideas, and plots into the space of one film. It backfired and the result is somehow simultaneously chaotic, stupid, and boring.

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Arguably, the plot isn’t even the strangest thing about SOUTHLAND TALES. That would come in one of the weirdest mismatched ensemble casts to ever hit the screen. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to deliver his lines in a semi-convincing manner, but he doesn’t really seem to understand who his character is (I can’t blame him either). Seann William Scott attempts to take a semi-dramatic role as twin brothers (one’s an undercover neo-Marxist and the other is a racist cop) and seems confused (again, I’m not blaming him for the faulty characters). Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing a typical ditz as the psychic porn star. Meanwhile, lots of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni show up for no discernible reason (including Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, etc.). Shawn Wallace is hamming it up as an oddball villain. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake serves as a narrator who occasionally pops in for a pointless scene (including one baffling drug-addled musical number).

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SOUTHLAND TALES is also supposed to be a satire. Though I can see it trying to make political points and mock the state of our country, it doesn’t do either of these things well. In fact, every ounce of humor (including one brief joke from Timberlake about a Proposition 69) feels forced or just confused. The futuristic setting could have made for a neat world being brought to life, but it’s not fully explored as Kelly seems to focused on linking together bland characters and uninteresting plot threads. I can’t even call SOUTHLAND TALES an interesting failure, because it’s far too long for its own good and feels even longer than that. This movie drags to an unbearable degree.

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There are strange movies. There are weird failures of a film. There are also “WTF” moments strewn throughout many movies (just look at any David Lynch story). However, I think SOUTHLAND TALES takes the cake in being the ultimate WTF movie…and I don’t mean that in a good way. This movie is godawful and really makes you question how it got past the pre-production with a script this horrible and unfocused. This has made its way in my list of bottom three worst films that I’ve ever suffered through (right next to BRANDED and THE BLACK DAHLIA). The only possible way I could even recommend SOUTHLAND TALES on the tiniest merit is so people who sit through this epic-length failure will appreciate everything else they watch that much more.

Grade: F

EVOLUTION (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, and for Sci-Fi Action

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Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: David Diamond, David Weissman & Don Jakoby

Starring: David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones, Seann William Scott, Ted Levine, Ethan Suplee, Ty Burrell & Dan Aykroyd

EVOLUTION is a movie that can be summed up in three words: GHOSTBUSTERS with aliens. Don’t believe me? This movie is even directed by the same guy who brought both GHOSTBUSTER films to the screen. He’s treading familiar cinematic waters with a fresh cast and a different monster. I don’t distinctly remember the level of excitement that this film had upon release (I was 10 years old at the time), but I do remember it being a regular sleepover movie (at least, for me). So it had some sort of impact on kids and adults at the time, going as far as to receive a short-lived animated series as well.

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When a meteor crashes into Earth and winds up at the bottom of an 80-foot crater, it appears to be the discovery that Ira Kane and Harry Block, two college professors and friends, have been waiting for. They cut off a sample of the space rock and find that there’s extraterrestrial life contained in some goo from the meteor. What’s even more peculiar is that this goo seems to be evolving at a rapid rate with single-celled organisms becoming worms in the space of three days. Soon enough, the U.S. military arrives to steal Ira and Harry’s discovery. This annoyance becomes the least of their problems, because hostile alien creatures begin to invade nearby areas and attack civilians. It’s up to Harry, Ira, Wayne (an idiot fireman-in-training) and Allison (a clumsy scientist) to take down the alien menace before we go extinct…

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EVOLUTION has a number of famous faces in the cast, but these were the early days for a few of them. David Duchovny was coming fresh off of X-FILES and that seems to be the sole reason for his presence. As the main lead, he’s bland and delivers his lines in a wooden unenthused sort of way. Starring alongside him is MADTV regular Orlando Jones, who easily stands out as the best part of this movie. Jones nails nearly every one-liner he receives and has a hilarious highlight as scientists try to capture an alien bug inside of his colon (without the aid of lubricant). Jones never went on to have the career that he really deserved, but he’s easily the best part of this whole film. Ted Levine and a (far younger) Ty Burrell serve as inept military officers. They aren’t played for laughs, but do play off each other well as dickhead human antagonists. Seann William Scott (coming off AMERICAN PIE) is hit-or-miss as the would-be fireman. Dan Aykroyd is sadly underutilized as the city’s Mayor, while Julianne Moore is wasted on a one-joke character. The joke is that she’s clumsy and the movie gets all the mileage it can out of her tripping, dropping stuff, and running into things.

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The story itself is predictable. You won’t have a hard time at all guessing how everything will play out, but that’s doesn’t necessarily make the whole film bad as the encounters with the aliens themselves are fun. Some of the effects haven’t aged well over time, while others look impressive. One monster coming out of a lake is Syfy level quality of CGI these days, but looked pretty cool at the time this film was made. The alien designs are also creative with a green-skinned dog-like creature, winged dinosaurs, and blue-skinned apes being highlights. The movie too often relies on cheap, obvious humor, but even these moments can get still get a few laughs out of me.

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EVOLUTION is pretty much a shameless remake of GHOSTBUSTERS under a different name, complete with a climax involving characters wearing matching jump-suits to take down a giant otherworldly menace. The cast is a mixed bag with certain actors being highlights and others being wasted on bland characters. The aliens themselves are cool to look at and the scenes of our heroes fighting them are enjoyable. I won’t deny that my vision of this film might be slightly clouded by a nostalgic haze (I watched this a lot when I was a kid), but EVOLUTION stands as an entertaining guilty pleasure.

Grade: B-

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Content, Crude and Drug-related Humor, Language and Comic Action Violence

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Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar

Written by: John O’Brien

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson, David Koechner, M.C. Gainey, Michael Weston

Adapting a TV series into a movie is not a new trend. It’s been going on as far back as the 80’s (I’m sure long before that too). I have never sat through a single episode of DUKES OF HAZZARD, so I can’t rightly say if this is a proper modern interpretation of the already campy-looking material. I can say that the movie is a letdown in many areas and does well enough in others as far as a filmmaking standpoint goes. DUKES OF HAZZARD isn’t a horrible way to pass the time, but it’s still technically bad in a lot of ways. This feels like an elongated episode of a modern incarnation of the series and less like a movie.

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Bo and Luke are cousins in the moonshine business. They transport their Uncle Jesse’s illegal product around town and are constantly in all sorts of trouble (as told to us by the narrating voiceover that sounds like it’s right out of ME, MYSELF & IRENE). When the meanest man in Hazzard county, Boss Hogg, plans to take over town, it’s up to the Duke family to take him down and sexy cousin Daisy Duke to help uncover a deeper conspiracy at work.

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On the plus side, there’s some ideal casting. While Seann William Scott is out-of-place as Bo, Johnny Knoxville and Burt Reynolds seem like they were born to be in a backwoods comedy like this one. Knoxville already comes off as a bit of a redneck and plays white-trash roles very well in any movie. The same can be said about his portrayal of Luke. Burt Reynolds hams it up as Boss Hogg. He seems to be having a blast in the role and is all-around scummy. The character does make for a good villain and one of the more entertaining people in the film. Jessica Simpson does all that’s really required as Daisy Duke. She’s sex appeal and eye candy. It sounds totally sexist of me to say that, but that’s the only truthful reason she was even recruited for this cast. Then there’s Willie Nelson. It sounds ideal on paper, but he isn’t given much to do as Uncle Jesse. Of the few scenes he’s allowed any dialogue, he mainly spouts off slightly dirtier versions of stale Laffy Taffy jokes.

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The sheer predictability of the script takes all the good qualities down a notch. It’s a feature-length episode where you can call what happens about an hour before it actually happens. Supposedly unexpected revelations come off as standard stuff. John O’Brien was one of the three writers behind 2004’s underrated TV-show-turned-movie STARSKY & HUTCH. DUKES OF HAZZARD isn’t up to the par of that aforementioned comedy. There are legitimately enjoyable car chases loosely strung together in the shabby story, but they are some of the highlights. I had a few good laughs, but the tired redneck cracks don’t break any new ground. Many of the road kill gags just become annoying as things move along.

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For the most part, DUKES is bland and well-worn in many respects. It should speak volumes that none of the primary cast from the original series made cameos or had anything to do with this movie reboot. STARSKY & HUTCH, THE A-TEAM, and 21 JUMP STREET (among many others) all had distinct production ties to their original series. That’s a sign that some sort of approval was given from those involved with the source material. None of that is seen in DUKES OF HAZZARD. There are two cast members from the original series and they only popped up for a couple of episodes at most. M.C. Gainey (playing the intimidating corrupt Sheriff) was only featured in a single episode and that’s it. There’s also a really odd SUPER TROOPERS cameo that references that film for no apparent reason other than to include a pointless moment that might get a few chuckles out of those who have seen that cult flick.

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THE DUKES OF HAZZARD isn’t terrible in the slightest, but it’s still bad. The bland script is its biggest downfall, but enjoyable car chases take up a significant amount of the screen time. Seann William Scott doesn’t seem to fit in with his fellow performers and Willie Nelson’s role is wasted, but Burt Reynolds and Johnny Knoxville are fun to watch. It’s not a total failure and I won’t condemn the entire thing. The bad far outweighs the good though, which is enough to warrant this grade.

Grade: D+

GOON (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Brutal Violence, Non-Stop Language, some Strong Sexual Content and Drug Use

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Directed by: Michael Dowse

Written by: Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg

Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy & Liev Schreiber

Combining the sports movie formula with a fight movie formula and throwing in a hefty amount of comedy, GOON is a movie that is far better than it had any indication of being. This is a pretty enjoyable flick that is worth kicking back and killing some time with. I watched it in the spur of the moment, having barely heard of it in the past and this is a nice little surprise. It’s far from a comedic masterpiece. Some problems can be found in the storytelling/pacing. One major compliment that can be given is that I can’t think of anything I’ve seen (off the top of my head) that’s exactly like GOON. There are major props to be given for that.

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Doug Glatt is a lovable guy, though he’s a bit slow in the head. He works as a bouncer at a bar and feels like the black sheep of his family due to this less-prestigious job. Both his overbearing father and his gay brother are well-respected doctors. During a night of relaxation and fun, Doug attends a hockey game with his best friend only to have a violent encounter with an aggravated player. His stint at the game earns Doug the attention of a hockey coach and soon enough, Doug is recruited as the resident enforcer for a hockey team. Earning a reputation and the title of Doug “The Thug,” on the rink for his bloody brawls, Doug quickly is elevated to the bigger leagues. This is where he tries to make a run at actually trying to play real hockey (to the dismay of his new coach) and attempts to form a friendship with a troubled teammate. This is all occurring while Doug’s parents frown upon his newfound career, Doug finds love in a troubled woman named Eva, and another famous hockey goon (Ross “The Boss”) waits on the horizon for a chance to fight.

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GOON is very entertaining. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. The script by Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel covers a lot of ground in 90 minutes, but maybe it’s a tad too much packed in? I felt like the film spent such a brief amount of time on some plot points that everything suffered a little bit as a result. The relationship between Doug and his family is limited to about three scenes. One of the more important subplots, Doug’s budding relationship with Eva, also felt too condensed. I bought the evolution of them as a possible couple. Seann William Scott and Alison Pill do have remarkable chemistry together, but the film needed to develop them together more. If the movie were about 20 to 30 minutes longer than it really would have made a difference in covering these interesting subplots. There were just so many threads points that needed more time.

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One aspect that wasn’t rushed in the slightest were the front-and-center sports elements. The really cool thing about GOON is that it plays out simultaneously as a sports flick and a fighting movie. There’s obviously a lot of humor thrown into the mix, but it’s all done with just enough believability to make the viewer root for Doug’s underdog team. The impending showdown between Doug “The Thug” and Ross “The Boss” is given some substantial weight. I really enjoyed the final scenes of the film which took a tad of an unusual turn for a sports-comedy, although (as my friend viewing the film with me noted) things could have been made even more unconventional and better for it.

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The film is very well-cast too. Besides the aforementioned Schreiber playing the main antagonist. Jay Baruchel (co-writer of this film) makes an appearance as Doug’s foul-mouthed best friend. This character was funny at points, but also got to a level of annoying (which may have been the intention). Alison Pill is pretty damn good as the romantic interest and given somewhat complex ground to cover seeing as her relationship is a complicated one. Eugene Levy makes a brief appearance as Doug’s father. I didn’t recognize most of the other cast members off-hand, but there are plenty of colorful characters (a pair of twins kept making me laugh as did an ill-tempered player with pictures of his mother plastered all over his helmet). Finally, there’s Seann William Scott. Known for playing ridiculous idiots, GOON marks a change for Scott. He’s still playing a moron, but he’s a lovable moron with good manners.

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As a whole, GOON is entertaining, despite some script points being undercut and rushed. The violence (of which there is plenty on the rink) is gloriously shot and done with a gleeful style to it. The entire film is laced with a charming sensibility. It’s a very enjoyable flick that winds up suffering from some pacing problems. Some of the parts of the script should either have been expanded or excised entirely. Still, GOON is one that I recommend as far as sports comedies are concerned.

Grade: B-

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