Kevin Smith films have to me, always had a nice, fun, friendly, low-budget feel to them, so you forgive a few technical slip ups or a flat delivery or two, and enjoy the fun spirit of the film. Now, Kevin has money, star power, and some indie cred up his sleeve, and the bar is raised. Supportive as I am of Smith’s work, I feel he needs to either stay in the small, tight ensemble comedy vein, with weird and wacky characters like Jay and Silent Bob, or make the big movies it seems clear he is itching to make (see also: Mallrats).
Dogma is a very thoughtful, carefully researched and written film, and definitely his most ambitious yet, with “real stars” and special effects and massive crowd scenes. Anyone who pays attention to extras in shots will notice a lot of repeating faces and a lot of terrible extras direction. This is a mark of a production that is still being run like a little indie, but with the expectations of a big movie. The shows were sold out all day the second day it was open, so it seems to be doing fine, despite a slipshod approach. An amusing disclaimer at the beginning of the film attempts to deflect any political ire that the statements and portrayals contained wherein may stir up, but the movie does not take its subject matter lightly enough to really offend anyone. In fact, it takes a pretty pedantic and thoughtful stance, which in and of itself is not really a bad thing, but it is a little expectations-breaking.
“Before they were stars” poster boys Ben Affleck and Matt Damon twirl their way inexplicably through their roles, alternately sympathetic, pathetic, and unsympathetic. Linda Fiorentino looks like she just woke up the whole movie. Alan Rickman, definitely the high point, is pastily made up but with a drunken swagger rules the film. Chris Rock is not quite fulfilling his comedic potential, and Salma Hayek as an asexual muse is also a case of Smith underusing some serious resources. Jason Lee is a low-rent Bruce Campbell (consider that statement carefully) running about with unclear motivations and three surly hockey teens that so closely resemble today’s disenfranchised youth, it’s not clear if they are supernaturally controlled or just normal. Best stunt casting: George Carlin as a cardinal. Oh yeah, and Jay and Silent Bob again. They seem wildly out of place in this film, a running gag from Clerks that has been carried into Smith’s “new” career out of sentiment more than usefulness. Don’t get me wrong, sentiment is great, but what are these guys for, exactly?
I am sorry to say I was more titillated by the previews for GalaxyQuest, End of Days, Girl Interrupted, and Magnolia than by the film they preceded. Dogma is very interesting, and should spark discussion among people who are interested in discussing such things (though, no doubt, will just be blown off as a fluffy Life of Brian type of harmless movie with a secular audience in mind), but more likely will actually slip away into obscurity, despite being hotly anticipated for three years. It’s fine, it’s not hilarious, it’s not boring, it’s just a nice little movie about faith and the nature of living well.
Bonus cameo: Bud Cort!
MPAA Rating R-strong language, violence, crude humor ,drugs
Release date 11/12/99
Time in minutes 130
Director Kevin Smith
Studio Lions Gate