THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


You've got to say this for Kevin Smith: his fans are nothing if not loyal. Since breaking onto the scene with his debut film Clerks, Smith has amassed a devoted fan base. We're talking about people who don't just watch his movies; they absorb them, memorizing nearly every line of dialogue for repetition later on. Walk down the street and ask everyone you see what a "stink palm" is. Those who laugh will be easily identified as Smith fans. Why the devotion? Well, there is something perceptive and funny about the Jersey filmmaker's take on life. Plus, whether you've seen the flicks (Chasing Amy, Mallrats, and Dogma are the others) once or one hundred times, they are still funny in all the same places. Before I review Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, you need to know that I am one of those loyal fans. I've been doing this film critic thing for a long time, and meeting Smith last year at a college lecture was one of the highlights of my career. This review therefore admittedly reflects that fandom. Jay and Silent Bob was made, Smith says, for the fans. Although it can be enjoyed by non-fans as well, those who have eagerly absorbed the director's earlier works will likely find it, as I did, to be the year's funniest movie.

Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes crash a Hollywood studio in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are, for the uninitiated, a pair of "friendly neighborhood drug dealers" from Red Bank, New Jersey. They spend their days hanging out in front of the Quik Stop convenience store, selling weed and scoping out the women who walk by. The guys who work there (Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran, reprising their roles from Clerks) file a restraining order to keep the pair away once and for all. Adding insult to injury, they soon learn that a comic book based on their antics - called "Bluntman & Chronic" - has been optioned by Miramax to become a movie. And they aren't being paid a dime for the use of their likenesses. So Jay and Silent Bob head out on a road trip to Hollywood, with the intention of stopping production.

Their trip brings them face-to-face with a wide assortment of characters. Most significantly, they are picked up by four beautiful women (Shannon Elizabeth, Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, and Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach) who dupe them into helping out on a diamond robbery. There is also a monkey, a wildlife officer (Will Farrell) who believes the duo is "dangerous," and a hitchhiker (George Carlin) who gives them some tips about hitting the road. Eventually, Jay and Silent Bob get to the Miramax studios and find themselves being portrayed by some unlikely actors (I won't ruin the bit by naming them). Mark Hamill even shows up as the enemy in the "Bluntman & Chronic" movie, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Star Wars. ("George Lucas is gonna sue somebody!" yells the fake director, played by Chris Rock.)

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is filled with wall-to-wall references to other movies, especially Smith's own. Virtually every major character from his four previous films pops up here somewhere. Jason Lee, for example, plays two characters: Banky (the comic book "inker" from Chasing Amy) and Brody (from Mallrats). Ben Affleck, meanwhile, shows up as Amy's Holden as well as himself, in a hilarious scene with Matt Damon on the set of a cheesy Good Will Hunting sequel. Sometimes the character callbacks are extended, while others are just brief enough to make you laugh (such as a late-film appearance by the infamous "Willem"). Stay through the end credits for a final surprise cameo.

Smith has loaded his picture with gags the fans will dig, but the movie plays well for the uninitiated, too. The potshots taken at Hollywood are priceless. Miramax, which distributes this movie, seems especially willing to poke fun at itself, as when one character suggests their arty image was shattered when they released the teen comedy She's All That. Affleck is another good sport, enduring jokes about some of his less competent movies. Smith also delivers some well placed jabs at websites like Ain't-It-Cool-News where obsessive internet film geeks endlessly (and anonymously) badmouth the latest Hollywood movies. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, aside from being a sterling valentine to fans, serves as a wickedly perceptive satire of the movie business and the audience at large.

Smith and Mewes have appeared as their characters in all five films from Smith's View Askew company. This, he claims, will be their last appearance. It's been an amazing run. Regardless of what you think of the movies themselves, you have to admit that the actors make a great on-screen pair. Mewes is peerless at being simultaneously obnoxious and lovable. In fact, he has a rare gift: the more offensive Jay is, the more people adore him. Smith gets a lot of props as a writer / director, but he's got a screen presence as well. Left without dialogue, he manages to communicate exquisitely with mere gestures and facial expressions. The combination of these two left me in stitches from the first time they walked into the frame in Clerks. Although this movie has several jokes about how bad a Jay and Silent Bob movie would be, I found this one to be (pardon my gushing) comic heaven.

Again, I should stress that this review is being written from the standpoint of one who has enthusiastically followed Kevin Smith's career. I hope those who are less familiar with the filmmaker's works will give it a try, too. There's plenty to laugh at even if you don't know every last bit of View Askew minutia. But those of us who know this stuff in and out will be laughing the loudest. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is everything a Kevin Smith fan could ask for.

( out of four)

Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back is rated R for nonstop crude and sexual humor, pervasive strong language, and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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