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Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) [Review Re-View]

Originally released August 22, 2001:

Kevin Smith returns back to his comedy roots. No more movies with a message (Chasing Amy and Dogma) it’s back to good ole’ snowballing and stink palming. His latest, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is like a giant thank-you card to all his fans that have made the man who he is today. It ties up the entire View Askew universe so Kevin can drift off into uncharted ventures of film making and not have to keep referencing the same damn characters. Plus there’s plenty of good-natured vulgarity to go around.

The plot of Jay and Silent Bob is nothing too heavy but seems to keep the film on a continuous pace, unlike the sometimes stagnant feel Mallrats had (what, they’re in one location for 90 minutes). It seems that after getting a restraining order at the Quick Stop on them, Jay and Silent Bob learn that Miramax is making a movie from a comic book that is in fact based off of them. Learned of the riches they could make they seek out the comic’s author Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck’s first appearance in the film) and demand a piece of the pie. Holden tells them that he long ago sold his right to his partner Banky Edwards (Jason Lee, in his second appearance in the film) and that there’s nothing they can do to stop the film. Jay suddenly gets the idea that if they stop the movie from ever getting made then they don’t have to worry. So off go our stoner duo on a mission to sabotage and satirize Hollywood.

Along the way are a hitch-hiker (George Carlin) advising the best way to get a ride is to go down in your morals, a confused nun (Carrie Fisher), the cast of Scooby Doo offering a ride (which will be 100x funnier than the feature film coming out next summer), a beautiful band of international diamond thieves (Eliza Dusku, Ali Larter, Jennifer Swalbach-Smith, Shannon Elizabeth), a rescued chimpanzee, a dogged Wildlife agent (Will Ferrell), and a full barrage of hilarity once Hollywood is finally hit.

The best barbs are laid out by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon bickering about the other’s film choices on the set of Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. This moment is truly inspired and full of great humor from Gus van Sant too busy counting his money to yell action to Damon turning into a vigilante hero. I almost fell on the floor laughing during this sequence.

When Jay and Silent Bob hit Hollywood is when the comedy starts hitting its stride as this Jersey Greek chorus interacts with the Hollywood life and encounters many a celebrity. The jokes are usually right on target except for Chris Rock’s performance of a racism obsessed film director. Rock’s portrayal becomes grating to the moviegoer far before it’s over, though he does get a few choice lines.

Smith as a director has finally elevated his visual art into something that can sustain itself instead of his earlier just-hold-the-camera-and-shoot movies. There are pans, zooms, quick cuts, cranes, action sequences, and even CGI. Smith is evolving as an artist but still staying his “dick and fart joke” self, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is evidence. And that’s fine by me.

Nate’s Grade: B

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WRITER REFLECTIONS 20 YEARS LATER

This was the one movie I was dreading more than any others on my 2001 re-watch. I’ve been a Kevin Smith fan since my teenage years and the man’s brilliantly vulgar movies had a formative effect on shaping my love of comedy, cinema, and even language itself. I don’t know if I can say I’ve been a fan of Smith as a filmmaker for some time. He took a more schlocky genre-based turn the last decade to diminished results; I enjoyed the change of pace from 2011’s Red State but found my interest deflating with 2014’s Tusk and 2016’s Yoga Hosiers. It wasn’t until 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot that my worry was unable to be suppressed. Had the filmmaker stopped growing or had I simply outgrown the filmmaker? The old jokes and self-serving references felt too labored, too stagnant, and like an old man repeating the hits for the same group of fans to laugh at the same recognizable and tired punchlines. By nature, comedy has the shortest shelf life of entertainment, and I was dreading that the original Jay and Silent Bob big screen adventure was going to feel so outdated and pitiful, especially since it’s the least substantial of all of Smith’s early films and was intended as a silly crowd-pleasing romp for his fandom. In 2001, I was a big participant of that group. In 2021, I don’t know if I still am.

This 2001 movie was always intended to be rather insular, pitched to the diehards who would understand references to chocolate-covered pretzels and the backseats of Volkswagens, but the star-studded affair was also intended to close the book on the View Askewniverse, the interconnected world comprising the first five films of Smith’s career. Smith had intended to move on and tell new stories unbound by the confines of his continuity and the demands fans would have that the new stuff tonally aligned with the old stuff. This never really happened. Smith tried something different with 2004’s father/daughter dramedy Jersey Girl and upon its theatrical demise retreated back to the safety of his View Askew universe. To be fair, he has branched out with bold experiments in horror, some of them rather successful, but it always feels like Smith is too afraid to move too far ahead of the fandom he credits so much for his success. Hey, people go to concerts and they want to hear the hits. I understand the appeal. I chuckled at points of familiarity in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and also Strike Back upon re-watch, but when you’re talking storytelling and comedy, stagnation isn’t growth. It’s a self-imposed ceiling.

It was very early that my sinking feeling for Strike Back became my default setting. The characters of Jay and Silent Bob are not built to carry an entire movie, especially when one of them is mostly mute. It becomes the Jay (Jason Mewes) show and he overstays his welcome. There are definite limitations to these two stoners being the primary characters, and that’s why Jay seems to vary from scene-to-scene for the sake of comedy. In some scenes he’ll be clever, in others powerfully stupid, and in others so specific, like when he’s referencing Prince Valiant or rhapsodizing a Planet of the Apes apocalyptic fantasy that is too involved to come from the mind of this dumb stoner. This is the same guy who didn’t know you had to pay to ride a bus. The character unpredictability would be more acceptable if those leaps lead to worthwhile comedy bits that couldn’t otherwise be bridged by the operating persona of the long-haired foul-mouthed horndog. Therein lies the issue. The humor of Strike Back is too scattershot and too obvious to really land consistently. The fourth-wall breaks are painful and plentiful. The constant exclamation of “bong” is never funny. The random inclusion of the Mystery Machine, with a Velma openly lusting after women, is lazy. The fact that people are fighting with bong lightsabers and dildos is lazy. The joke that everyone on the Internet complaining about pop culture is just a teen dweeb is lazy and almost Aaron Sorkin-esque in its snide broad-brush painting of technology and youth. As I said in my review of Reboot: “Smith has never been one to hinge on set pieces and more on character interactions, usually profane conversations with the occasional slapstick element. This is one reason why the original Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back suffers in comparison to his more character-driven comedies.” This movie is wall-to-wall wacky slapstick and road trip pieces that fail to transcend their cultural references.

And the comedy aspect that has aged the worse, by far, is the rampant gay jokes. At the time of its theatrical release, G.L.A.A.D. was openly decrying the film for its copious jokes at the expense of being mistaken as gay. I’m all but certain that 2001 me would have voiced the opinion that this was absurd, that of course Smith isn’t a homophobe, and he’s merely satirizing homophobia. The problem is that being gay is such a repeated joke of derision and hysteria. Wildlife Marshal Willenholly (Will Ferrell, one of the better reasons to still watch) admits he’s only a man on the outside, and I guess that’s a joke? Gay jokes are definitely one of the kinds of comedy that has aged the worst in the ensuing twenty years. Think back to 2005’s extended riff-fest between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where they try to top one another how they know the other is really gay. That would never happen in a studio comedy today. Times change and so do the mores of comedy. Things we thought were funny decades ago we might not feel the same way. That’s the nature of comedy. The overall comedy of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back feels tacky and dated, so the onslaught of gay panic and derision only makes the rest of the comedy feel just as sad and pitiful.

There are two hooks to this movie, the relationship that forms between Jay and Justice (Shannon Elizabeth), one of the members of a girl gang of jewel thieves, and the havoc and industry satire of the guys running through the Miramax studio lot. Heather Graham reportedly turned down the role of Justice because she could not understand what woman would fall in love with Jay, and she’s completely right. The girl gang seems included because it felt like the hot thing to do at the time after Charlie’s Angels, to include some sexy ladies in cat suits, give them slow-motion scenes where they wink at the camera about how sexy they must look in magazine cover poses, and seem to be in on the joke while just objectifying these one-note characters with air quotes. Just because Smith later has the girl gang underline their cliché nature doesn’t make them any less of a cliché, and their entire inclusion feels like fulfilling a personal demand for Smith rather than satirizing the shallow depiction of “strong action heroine” in Hollywood blockbusters. The other hook is the actual industry satire, strictly under the guidance of lampooning Miramax and their hits and indie darling culture, all of which has the pall of Harvey Weinstein cast over it. The industry jokes aren’t exactly very cutting. It’s difficult to even label this as satire. It’s more a madcap chase that resembles a crude version of Pee Wee Herman’s studio escapades. It too feels predicated on fulfilling personal demands for Smith, like literally fighting Luke Skywalker in a lightsaber duel. I’ll agree with my 2001 self that the comedy is on stronger footing during this final act, but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the rest of the movie. Strike Back doesn’t strike hard enough.

There is one reason to watch this movie and it has always been the unique fascination of Jason Mewes as a performer. He was not even an actor when Smith put him in his indie breakout film, 1994’s Clerks. He has such an unpolished appeal and there were several line readings where he took a bizarre, immediately intriguing angle, something that made the line funny because of his delivery and conviction. Mewes is a genuinely underrated comic actor. He was also battling heroin withdrawal throughout the production and turned to getting drunk as a backup coping mechanism. As soon as filming was done, he began using drugs again and eventually Smith would drive his buddy to rehab and offer a place in his home if it meant he had someone to make sure he stayed sober. The friendship between Mewes and Smith, and the hell they’ve gone through together from his addiction, is truly heartwarming and would genuinely make an interesting movie all its own.

I come back to my review for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot because I wrestled with these same feelings back then, and re-watching Strike Back only provided disappointing confirmation. As I said in 2019, “The highly verbose filmmaker has been a favorite of mine since I discovered a VHS copy of Clerks in the late 90s. I will always have a special place reserved for the man and see any of his movies, even if I’m discovering that maybe some of the appeal is starting to fade… As a storyteller, I’ll always be front and center for this gregarious and generous man. As a filmmaker, I’ll always be thankful for his impact he had on my fledgling ideas of indie cinema and comedy, even if that means an inevitable parting of ways as he charts a well-trod familiar path.” Going back to the crude comedies of Kevin Smith feels like meeting old friends and realizing how little you might have in common now, and that’s okay. They still were important, they won’t be forgotten, but some things just aren’t built to last, especially comedy. I guess don’t be sad because it’s over but smile because it happened, including the many, many dick and fart jokes.

Re-View Grade: C

American Reunion (2012)

What loser doesn’t attend their 13th high school reunion? Who even organizes such an untimely event? The generally unnecessary American Reunion is being dished out to the public for a number of reasons. The studio would like to revive their once lucrative sex-comedy-meets-baked-goods franchise, and most of these actors could desperately use the work. Remember when the likes of Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, and Tara Reid were above-the-title names? What I recall, now that the gang is together again, is that I found most of these characters to be dullards. They’re in their 30s, have careers and families, and stupidly comfortable lives, yet they’re up to the same old hijinks, which just seem a bit more desperate and embarrassing this time around. Seann William Scott, the franchise’s true wild card, is still amusing as ever, but I couldn’t swallow the forced nostalgia for characters that are unappealing. Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan still make a nice pair, but rehashing the old gang mitigates their screen time. Comedy-wise, the movie has a few memorable gross-out moments but nothing really hilarious. I laughed from time to time but mostly I was bored, and Klein, especially in his new post-Street Fighter ironic version of himself, is rarely boring. It’s a pleasant enough experience and I suppose fans of the original films will get a kick out of seeing who ended up where and, in particular, what he hell happened to Reid’s leathery face. Otherwise, American Reunion is a gathering that nobody called for and fails to justify all the effort. Then again, my favorite of the American Pie films is the second one, so take my words with caution.

Nate’s Grade: C

Jersey Girl (2004)

Writer/director Kevin Smith (Dogma) takes a stab at family friendly territory with the story of Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck), a music publicist who must give up the glamour of the big city to realize the realities of single fatherhood. Despite brief J. Lo involvement, Jersey Girl is by no means Gigli 2: Electric Boogaloo. Alternating between edgy humor and sweet family melodrama, Smith shows a growing sense of maturity. Liv Tyler stars as Maya, a liberated video store clerk and Ollie’’s real love interest. Tyler and Affleck have terrific chemistry and their scenes together are a playful highlight. The real star of Jersey Girl is nine-year-old Raquel Castro, who plays Ollie’’s daughter. Castro is delightful and her cherubic smile can light up the screen. Smith deals heavily with familiar clichés (how many films recently end with some parent rushing to their child’’s theatrical production?), but at least they seem to be clichés and elements that Smith feels are worth something. Much cute kiddie stuff can be expected, but the strength of Jersey Girl is the earnest appeal of the characters. Some sequences are laugh-out-loud funny (like Affleck discovering his daughter and a neighbor boy engaging in “the time-honored game of “doctor””), but there are just as many small character beats that could have you feeling some emotion. A late exchange between Ollie and his father (George Carlin) is heartwarming, as is the final image of the movie, a father and daughter embracing and swaying to music. Jersey Girl proves to be a sweetly enjoyable date movie from one of the most unlikely sources.

Nate’s Grade: B

American Wedding (2003)

So it looks like Jim (Jason Biggs) and his bang-camp lovin’’ girlfriend Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are going to tie the knot. As the wedding approaches hilarious hijinks ensue. That’s really about it plot-wise. Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) makes a return to goose every one up for a wedding, which also promises bridesmaids and a bachelor party. More hijinks ensue until the wedding.

The best thing the ‘American Pie’ makers did was shaving down their overloaded cast. Gone are Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Natascha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, and Tara Reid. And good riddance I say. What made ‘American Pie 2’ an improvement, for me, was that they focused on the interesting characters (Jim, Michelle, Stifler, Finch) and then gave the others some scant storyline. The comedy worked better when it wasn’t so divided among characters that weren’’t equal in being compelling.

Scott is a whirling comic Tasmanian devil; with his twitchy weaselly grin, his drunken leer, and near spitfire delivery of such profanity-laden lines. The Stifler character has come a long way since having only 11 lines in 1999’’s ‘American Pie’. He emerged as a strong supporting character in the 2001 sequel, igniting the screen whenever he entered. Now Scott has become the de facto star of the ‘American Pie’ trilogy: it’’s really all about the rise and evolution of Stifler. He’s gone from being the sneering jerk to becoming a lovable loudmouth. ‘American Wedding’ is really the Steve Stifler show. He shouts, dances, and eats dog crap – all for your enjoyment people. Scott’s efforts and energy are so transcendent that he rightfully owns the film, much in the same way Johnny Depp entirely owned ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

Biggs and Hannigan have a lovely charm to them and both are blessed with radiant smiles. Eugene Levy is still hilarious as the dad who has a problem with over sharing. The other actors serve out their roles from straight-guy (Thomas Ian Nicholas) to horrible-reaction-guy (Eddie Kaye Thomas). The woman, who plays Michelle’s sister, and the object of both Finch and Stifler’’s eye, is named January Jones.

Not everything works as smoothly the third slice around. Some jokes are inspired like the one-upsmanship of a bachelor party gone awry when Michelle’’s parents interrupt (which, like the second film, provides the gratuitous nudity). Some jokes feel dull, especially some misbegotten pubic hair belonging to Jim. And then some jokes just lose their momentum as they seem to stretch. Stifler dancing in a gay bar just to prove he can make even gay men want him? Funny. Have it go on and on with substandard dancing for a dance-off? Loses the funny. But with any comedy, and especially ones following the gross-out expectations, everything is hit-or-miss.

I also noticed something quite odd about ‘American Wedding’: It’s terribly directed. Many scenes are shot at oblique angles often with characters not even facing the camera. The cutting seems awkward as well as the framing. The film was directed by Jesse Dylan (How High), who is, no joke, a son of the legendary Bob.

‘American Wedding’ seems like a fitting end to these characters journeys. It’s a comedy ripe with laugh-out-loud moments and groaners, mostly supplied by Scott. There’s also a degree of sweetness. In a summer drenched in sequels, at least one of them fulfilled some of its promise.

Nate’s Grade: B-

American Pie 2 (2001)

First and foremost I disliked the first American Pie movie. It just rang very transparent for me and I didn’t laugh once – a capitol crime with a comedy in my book. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another addition with the American Pie family, but ventured out with friends and found myself enjoying this second helping of raunch. And this time I genuinely laughed at several points and found it overall less insipid.

To American Pie 2‘s benefit all the characters have been introduced prior and are familiar to the audience, therefore no time is wasted on pointless set-up. The movie jumps right out to the familiar faces and decides to further the AP2 universe. Jim (Jason Biggs) and friends are returning back home after their first year of college. Jim has not had a sexual experience since his prom night with Michelle the band geek (Alyson Hannigan) and he is completely in doubt of his abilities in the bedroom. Complicating matters is the news that the Czech student of his fantasies Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is on her way back and is eagerly anticipating another tryst with Jim. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is still hung up on his ex Vicky (Tara Reid) and worrying that his friends will grow apart and college will change everything. Oz (Chris Klein) seems to be doing fine with his monogamous relationship to Heather (Mena Suvari), despite the taunting of Stifler (Sean William Scott) that he needs to spread out. Finally Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is still chasing after the only woman that ever caught his heart, Stifler’s mom.

After the boys return back to their roots the police bust a party at Stifler’s pad, and they are without a place to party for the summer. Kevin brings to their attention the idea of renting a cabin on the beach for the summer. The place serves as a spot for the boys to enjoy their sunshine-y days away from school and stay together as friends, as well as attempt to get an abundance of tail. Hi-jinks ensue.

AP2 almost seems to follow the formula of the first one to the letter. The opening scene has Jim’s dad (the always hilarious Eugene Levy) walking in on an embarrassing moment for Jim (you think he’d learn that doors have locks at this point). Jim encounters a horrific sexual accident that he must discuss with his father afterwards. Stifler gets a not-so-nice encounter with a bodily fluid in the beginning party. And it all ends with a big party to end all parties with everyone hooking up with a partner for some post-coital spooning. The script was written by the same writer of the first yet he seems to be playing connect the dots with his own formula.

What American Pie 2 does to separate itself as more enjoyable than the first is give the interesting characters the majority of the time and leave the least interesting sputtering for air. The interesting ones follow: Jim is a nice guy full of the same insecurities that plague a teenager and intimacy, and Biggs plays him as an everyman who somehow always seems to come into sadistic moments of embarrassment. With Jim’s wish to be more sexually adept he visits the infamous band camp and finds Michelle once again who agrees to coach him on techniques and pointers. Hanigan is given an incredible amount more of screen time and she’s glowing in every second of it.

Also the man-you-love-to-hate Stifler has a larger role leading his group of lakeside roommates into encounters with lesbians and other sexual calamities. Scott may be playing Stifler as a jerk but he’s entertaining and genuinely funny, and at one point you can’t help but root for the crass frat boy. Finch has learned that Stifler’s mom will be paying a visit to their cabin at the end of the summer and spends his time studying up on Tantra and Zen to fully explore his inner sexual prowess.

The entire cast from the first American Pie romp does return, though not everyone has equal time. Mena Suvari (still looking so young) leaves in the beginning of the film and then comes back at the very end. The insatiably annoying Reid (who has eyes that I can’t tell where her whites end and irises begin) thankfully is only in the film for two short scenes which leads me to question was she even necessary in the first place? Natasha Lyonne is only in scenes alongside Reid, so her stint in the sequel is equally as brief. Elizabeth’s role might be central to Jim’s quest for sexual fulfillment, but she only pops up in the last eight minutes of the film – and doesn’t show her breasts this time. Now that I think about it Klein and Nicholas really weren’t in the film too much either except for standing in the background while another character talked.

The soundtrack is a collection of every pop “punk” band that’s been playing on MTV since May of that year. It’s like the producers just watched the channel for a week and would point to the ones they wanted.

The film still is a mishmash of gross out sexual humor and sentimentality, but for some reason it’s a lot easier to swallow the second time around. For all its bodily fluids and crudeness, American Pie 2 has a stickily sweet secretly conservative old-fashioned heart. Though the makers would never tell you so. In a summer almost bankrupt on entertainment value I’ll leisurely take a slice of American Pie 2.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Loser (2000)

Jason Biggs came to fame by getting sexual healing from pastry and Mena Suvari for coming up roses besides Kevin Spacey. So now the two American Pie graduates embark on college in Loser, the latest offering by classic teen comedy director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless).

Loser tells the tale of a self-describe outcast Paul (Biggs) who ventures out of a rural town to the big bad city of New York for college education. Before he leaves he confides to his family his fear that everyone will be “like on Seinfeld.” Upon Paul’s arrival he’s deemed a laughable dolt by his fratboy roomies and even forced to live in an animal shelter. Paul has a difficult time adjusting to the new world until he meets a kindred spirit in the intriguing Dora (Suvari) one day in class. Dora herself is a struggling student not fitting in easily. She even has a secret tryst with her professor played by Greg Kinnear.

All of the characters in Loser other then its leads are one-dimensional cartoons. Paul’s dorm mates start off as mean-spirited brats but then unsettlingly become attempted date rapists with plans involving roofies. Am I the only one bothered that their actions are never dealt with but glossed over? Dora’s relationship with Kinnear only cheapens the intelligence of her character. From the beginning he is a smarmy jerk (as are most in Loser) whose most romantic line consists of “Would you please sit there and just not talk.” What woman wouldn’t fall for someone like that?

Loser is no outright loser though. It does have its funny moments and starts off well enough. Paul and Dora are sweet characters that keep our interest. Kinnear plays a snide jerk well. But somewhere in the middle Loser shifts from what it could have been into what it reluctantly is.

Biggs and Suvari are the only nice people on screen, and it makes little sense that in a world of hipsters that these two would put up with all of their abuse and not see one another. It’s obvious that they should be together except to them, so it’s just a matter of time before they hug and kiss. The movie is basically a waiting game to see when Suvari is going to wise up.

Heckerling has been a strong force for many an influential teen comedy but her latest effort seems like she lost interest somewhere within. Loser had the possibility of being the Clueless for the not-so-in-crowd but instead mimics the title far more than intended.

Nate’s Grade: C

American Pie (1999)

 

I may be a lone voice in a sea of opposition but I’ll say that I really didn’t laugh much at this latest teen sex romp. I wanted to laugh more than I did, oh I did, but it never really transpired. The movie throws together out of place gross-out gags and false sentimentality. The entire thing was predictable and for the most part stale. I may be over-analyzing a teen sex comedy, but that’s what I had to do with the time where I wasn’t laughing. The creators of this seem to imply that gals who don’t put out aren’t worthwhile or even cool. I could never feel for any of the characters or relate because they were all so shallow. There are some humorous scenes in this flick but they are few and far between. Many of the jokes just fall flat. Overall I could say I was greatly disappointed with American Pie and hope that the most innovative joke in the next teen sex comedy isn’t played to death in commercials and turned into a tagline. Are you listening Universal marketing team?

Nate’s Grade: C

 

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