Release Date:November 11th, 1999Cast:
Bartleby - Ben Affleck
Loki - Matt Damon
Bethany - Linda Fiorentino
Cardinal Glick - George Carlin
Rufus - Chris Rock
Serendipity - Salma Hayek
Metatron - Alan Rickman
Azrael - Jason Lee
Jay - Jason Mewes
Silent Bob - Kevin Smith
Director: Kevin Smith
Previews: Play It To The Bone ($$), Isn't She Great ($$), Girl, Interrupted ($$$ ), Eye Of The Beholder ($$1/2 )
Back in January, when I looked at the movie calendar for 1999, there were two things that I noticed. First, of course, there was the long-anticipated, and now, very disappointing, Star Wars prequel. Secondly there was the long-delayed, and also anticipated follow-up to Clerks and Chasing Amy, Dogma. Notice that I did not include Mallrats in that group, because that movie was an abomination, and something that Kevin Smith should still be apologizing for, as he did at a lecture at USC.
This film has gained a lot of publicity, due to its controversial nature and subject matter of parodying the Catholic church, and religious views and beliefs in society. After seeing the movie, two things are abundantly clear to me. One, I see where and why the criticism came out, but also, I cannot see what the uproar is. Smiths tongue is planted firmly in his cheek, as he takes on religious zealots and bible thumpers, with a great fervor, while still "preaching" his own powerful message.
Dogma plays out like The Last Temptation of Christ, if it was directed by Woody Allen. Those of you who are not aware of the basic plot of the movie should just know these basic facts. The cast is one of the most unique and vast assembled for a movie of this type. Smith has brought back his regulars, Jasons Lee and Mewes, Brian OHalloran (Dante, from Clerks) and of course, his muted alter ego, Silent Bob. Then he adds in some flavor into the mix . There is hot new comic Chris Rock, hot old comic George Carlin, just plain hot Salma Hayek, hot duo Affleck and Damon, along with Fiorentino, Alan Rickman and even a dash of Janeane Garofalo. His story, on paper, looked outrageous, and even outlandish, at first glance. Two angels who were kicked out of heaven, attempt to sneak back in through a religious loophole, centered in a church in New Jersey. Fiorentino, along with two "prophets," Jay and Silent Bob, the thirteenth apostle, Rock, and the voice of God, Rickman, are tasked to stop them. I know, sounds silly, and cheesy and the previews and marketing for the movie didnt really help matters, by showing the comic scenes, and playing it as a straight comedy. Actually, it is quite far from that. Yes, there is some vicious skewering of religious icons, stories and legends, and some liberties are taken as well which are disclaimed masterfully in the opening sequence. However, what is missing, and what those who dismiss it as a cornball religious spoof will miss, is the deep message, and intelligent writing, that comes out, in between all of the parody.
The screenplay does a masterful job of balancing the spoof and the preaching. We are given just enough so that we never get too much of either, but just enough of both to have a laugh, and then think a bit in between the chuckles. There is commentary on the differing religions, on how something that is supposed to bring peace and happiness, causes wars and oppression (the Inquisition, what a show). Also how beliefs, and ideas, are sometimes confused for the greater good of the person delivering the message.
See, not what you expected was it? This movie will not catch Smith fans off-guard that much. He has just turned his trained eye, and acerbic wit, away from love, high school, and retail, and onto the pulpit. He has done so, with a very deft, and masterful touch. He is helped out, by some great casting as well. Leading the way is Fiorentino, see Last Seduction for her best work, who holds the movie together with her confused disbelief, turning to enlightenment. Her scenes with a mastefully playful Rickman, and the always obnoxious Mewes and Smith, are the best points in the film. Affleck and Damon once again work their chemistry, unleashing their Boston based ire and wit, on everyone from unfaithful bus patrons, to unscrupulous corporate executives. Damon plays it as if his Will Hunting, goes hunting, for truth, for justice, and for redemption. The slight downsides come from Hayek, who again, really doesnt serve much of a purpose than eye candy. Also Rock, thrown in for comic relief, who comes off as a little too sarcastic and wise cracking, as if he is trying a bit too hard to be funny. He, like all of the other characters though, does deliver some great lines, and makes them believable.
However, for all of my raves, and rants, there is a downside to Dogma. I felt that the language was a tad too excessive and unnecessary. Granted, Smiths movies are usually very strongly laced with language. The irony of this, I guess, is that the strong cursing is contradictory to the beliefs of most religions. Also, too excessive, and definitely unnecessary, was the use, and excess, of the violence. Yes, the violence, Loki, after all, is the angel of death, and I can see that, without having to be shown, in sometimes graphic detail. Tone that down, remove a few of the F words, and this movie would be near perfect in my eyes.
Ultimately, Dogma works for me on two levels. I was laughing, yet thinking, at the same time. My mind, and my funny bone, were forced to both work here, sometimes in conjunction, in order to get the gist of the movie. Those who criticize, and call it sacrilegious, need to take a step back, and take a deep breath. If we cant laugh, or at least smile, at ourselves, then how can we purport and justify laughing at others. The message of this film, I believe, is that we all need to relax, find the silver lining in all of the madness, and religious fervor abundant today. No one is perfect, we all think we are right, so why not have some fun with it. "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." Kevin Smith has a whole rockpile, and pummels us into a sometimes excessive, but still blissful and enlightened submission with them. ($$$ out of $$$$)
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