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Dogma
1999 - R (for extreme profanity, bloody violence, sexual content, and drug content) - 125 Mins.
Director: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Written By: Kevin Smith
Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, George Carlin
Review by: John Ulmer
   
My main inspiration for seeing a Kevin Smith movie was due to the fact that I know he is a huge fan of John Hughes, who directed, produced and wrote my favorite comedy of all time, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." I have heard a lot about Smith, and up until last night I had only had a glimpse of his comedy "Mallrats" (1995). Now I have seen "Dogma," one of the most wickedly funny - and strange - satires in recent memory.

The plot: Two fallen angels named Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) figure out a way to get back into heaven via a loophole involving a Catholic church. However, God decreed that they shall be sent to earth for eternity, and therefore, if they find a way into heaven, it will negate something God commanded, therefore destroying the world.

And so the last Zion (relative of Christ), Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), is sent on a mission by a strange angel (Alan Rickman) who says she will meet two rather unconventional prophets traveling to New Jersey (where the church is located). She must stop Bartleby and Loki from entering heaven before they unknowingly destroy the world.

Her unconventional prophets are two strange men, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). Jay is a foul-mouthed idiot and Silent Bob is a silent idiot. Fans of Smith will remember these characters from previous films - they even got their own movie, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001).

Along her journey, Bethany encounters an odd assortment of characters, including the 13th prophet, Rufus (Chris Rock), who was not mentioned in the Bible because he was black; Cardinal Glick (George Carlin), a New Age priest; Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a fallen angel who has become a stripper (even though angels have no genitalia); and God (Alanis Morrisette), no introduction necessary, but rather the fact that (S)he is a woman and not a man.

Being from a Christian background I wasn't sure what to expect from this film. I was extremely surprised. It isn't as offending as I thought it would be. In fact, there are in-jokes that only those familiar with the Bible would pick up on in the first place. Catholics protested against this film when it first came out - something Kevin Smith probably predicted well in advance since he has a scene where Catholic protesters are rallying on a street.

There are some genuinely original, wacky and wickedly funny moments in "Dogma," but the longer the film treads on (two hours +), the less impact the more stretched-out jokes become. The film sorta loses itself in some way towards the end, picking up a kind of Charlie Kaufman weird ending involving Bartleby flying around killing people outside the Catholic Church in NJ. I think that this haphazard strangeness is great in one way, but in another I think it loses its comedy, and stretches out a bit too much. I was ready to give it 5 stars until the last twenty minutes, simply because I think no wacky comedy should exceed two hours; an hour and a half can be stretching it sometimes.

"Dogma" is a splendidly, unexpectedly violent and hilarious and satirical and truly smart comedy that successfully accomplishes what it set out to do: Spoof religion. The jokes do start to get worse and worse as the film goes on, but the first 3/4 of the movie was pure joy to sit through. I watched the film by myself and laughed - something I don't usually do when no one else is around, for some reason - and that just shows how much impact it had on me.

The first sign of Kevin Smith's insight into religion is the unveiling of the new Catholic Christ. Cardinal Glick reveals to the press that the church folk think the image of Jesus hanging on a cross is too depressing - so he whips out "Buddy Jesus," a statue of Jesus giving a thumbs-up that looks as if it belongs in a casino in Las Vegas. These are the best moments in the movie - when Smith is really lampooning the fact that Catholicism is becoming more commercialized every day. (No offense to the Catholics out there.)

I also appreciated the in-joke about John Hughes. Jay and Silent Bob admit to Bethany that they came to Illinois to live in Shermer, the place most of John Hughes' movies take place in. They say that the women are always beautiful and the guys are always nerds, so it's the perfect place for them. Then they confess that they found out there isn't really a Shermer, Illionis, and curse the movies for tricking them. Only a Hughes fan would understand.

Speaking of Hughes for a moment, Kevin Smith's band of return actors - including Mewes, Rock, Affleck, Damon, Jason Lee (who plays a demon named Azrael here), and himself - are named View Askew. John Hughes was primarily responsible for the birth of the Brat Pack during the eighties. No doubt in my mind exists that Kevin Smith is truly following in the footsteps of his self-proclaimed role model - ten years from now we'll probably be looking back at the nineties as the View Askew Pack.

Best moment: When Loki murders the board members of a greedy corporation and spares one woman because he says she is innocent. Then he says that she forgot to say, "God bless you" when he sneezed moments before and so he's ready to kill her. "You got off easy," he says. You've got to see the scene to understand it, much like the entire film. Seeing is believing this comedy.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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