Directed by Kevin Smith
Review by Matt Heffernan
Not since Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ has the religious right made such a stink about a film. Kevin Smith had made three films before Dogma, each of them being fairly harmless, but exceptional comedies (OK, maybe Mallrats wasn't exceptional, but you know what I mean). With his past success, he now has the ability to make this film, which he actually wrote before Clerks, but didn't have the means to make it properly. He managed to raise $5 million for the production and to get distribution from Miramax immediately. But, with parent company Disney having enough trouble from the Bible Belt, they dropped it for Lion's Gate to pick up. All this with nobody actually watching the film, which has a nice disclaimer at the beginning to remind you that IT IS JUST A STUPID COMEDY, STUPID! Well, it's not nearly as stupid as the people protesting it, which I will attempt to explain below.
Two fallen angels are stuck in Wisconsin, no longer in God's favor. Loki (Matt Damon) was once the Angel of Death, whose big day was the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah. He hangs around with Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who is a lower form of angel called a "watcher" that, well, you can figure out what he does. They learn about a church in Red Bank, New Jersey run by Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) who has started a new campaign: "Catholocism Wow!" He hopes to draw more people to the Catholic church by getting the Pope to allow plenary indulgence for those who enter the church, guaranteeing them an entrance to heaven. Loki and Bartleby see this as an opportunity to go home, but by exploiting this loophole in Catholic dogma, they will prove God wrong, thereby destroying all existence on Earth.
To prevent them from doing this, the archangel Metatron (Alan Rickman), a.k.a. the voice of God, calls upon Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), the last living descendant of Christ, who ironically works at an abortion clinic. He commands her to stop them, and gives her two prophets to help her get to Jersey: Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). On their way they meet Rufus (Chris Rock), the thirteenth apostle, who falls from heaven to join the odyssey. All the while, a demon named Azrael (Jason Lee) is doing the work of Lucifer, preventing the plucky group from saving the world.
By now, I suppose you could see why some people are getting a little upset. If they were to see the film, however, they would notice that it is definitely not to be taken seriously. Smith yet again shows his flair for oddly hilarious comedy. Although I must stress the word "odd" because this is certainly nothing like his previous films, or any other film, for that matter. It may not be up to the level of Being John Malkovich on terms of originality and sheer hilarity, but it does do a fine job.
What does carry over from Smith's previous films is his ubiquitous duo Jay and Silent Bob. They have a much larger part in this film, but he actually gives Bob less to say this time. This is also Affleck's third straight film with Smith, but his first one as an established star. Before Good Will Hunting got made, Smith gave Affleck the plum starring role in Chasing Amy, which helped establish him as a leading man. Here, he and Damon take a cut in pay to ham it up big time, delivering their weird, but grandiose lines with great enthusiasm. In fact, the screenplay sometimes went into this biblical-explanatory mode that was somewhat awkward. Luckily, the film didn't dwell on trying to explain itself all the time, instead delivering a mostly solid stream of laughs.
The big problem with the protest is that it's quite misdirected. They should be picketing The Messenger for protraying one of their saints in such an asenine manner. Or maybe Stigmata for making the Vatican look like the headquarters of a crime syndicate. The fact is that people don't care about banning mediocre art, because nobody is going to stop them. But by creating this conflict, they do nothing more than making Dogma a bigger success.
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan