Lions Gate, 1999
Directed by Kevin Smith


By Jason Rothman

Religious groups may blast Kevin Smith's new film, Dogma, as an attack on Christianity. But in fact, it's a funny, irreverent, foul-mouthed love letter to religion. It almost makes religion seem hip.

Smith views the bible like a comic book, a story of good versus evil with powerful beings on either side. He gives us Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as two banished angels who find a loophole in Catholic dogma that will allow them to reenter paradise against God's wishes -- all they have to do is walk into one particular church in New Jersey. If that happens, all of existence will cease to be. An everyday woman, Linda Fiorentino, is picked by a messenger from heaven to stop it from happening.

There's a lot more thrown into the mix: Chris Rock as the forgotten, black 13th apostle, the delicious Salma Hayek as a muse-turned-stripper, George Carlin as a Cardinal -- not to mention a demon made of excrement. As the forces of heaven and hell make their way toward their apocalyptic Garden State showdown, Smith uses every free moment to give us his take on religion. His thoughts -- as spun forth in lengthy dialogue scenes -- can be summarized like this: religion should be a blessing, not a burden -- it should be about ideas, not strict beliefs.

Smith's script writing still suffers from the dreaded Quentin Tarantino Film Geek Syndrome. At pivotal moments, instead of coming up with something original for his characters to say, he instead has them quote a famous movie line. It may get a cheap laugh, but it doesn't allow the film to stand on its own two feet.

Smith also brings back the characters of Jay and Silent Bob, played by Jason Mewes and Smith himself. The pair are kind of funny, but their act always feels like some inside joke, they only seem to be in the movie for Smith's own amusement. It's a self indulgent habit Smith needs to grow out of.

I'm also guessing Smith had a decent budget this time -- so why does the film still look like it was shot on cheap 16 millimeter? The movie has some decent CGI effects work -- it deserved some slick cinematography, too. The movie is also way too long.

But for a while, it's very funny. Rock gives his best performance on film. Alan Rickman, getting his best role in years, is great as an angel who acts as a mouthpiece for the Almighty. There's also an off-the-wall casting choice for the role of God. Smith still has a ways to go as a director, but the movie has some big laughs and some interesting ideas -- it's worth checking out.

(c) Copyright 1999

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