Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
review by Joe Barlow, 31 August 2001

Jay and Silent Bob are a joke that gets a little less funny with each subsequent retelling, so it's probably a good thing that Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the fifth film to feature the popular stoners, has been christened their final outing.  Smith, who created the characters in his 1993 breakout indie movie, Clerks (and also plays the part of Silent Bob), has proven himself willing and able to tackle more thoughtful subject matter than dick and fart jokes, as evidenced by offerings like Chasing Amy and Dogma.  This movie, then, plays like a loving farewell to the rabid fans who got the director where he is today, with virtually every major character from Smith's previous work popping up here for a swan song appearance.  But all things must pass, and it makes sense for Smith to retire the characters now -- the duo appear to have wandered so far afield of their indie roots that a more appropriate moniker for the flick might be Jay and Silent Bob Sell Out.

The story is simple enough: having been banned from the Qwik-Stop convenience store (the setting of Clerks), our intrepid heroes visit their friend Brodie (Jason Lee), the main character from Smith's Mallrats, who now owns a comic book store.  Brodie informs the duo that Miramax is about to make a movie based on Bluntman and Chronic, two comic superheroes who are in turn loosely based on Jay and Silent Bob.  But after learning that (a) Miramax doesn't intend to give them any money and (b) the Internet community can't stop bitching about the forthcoming project, our heroes decide to head to California to halt production of the film.  Along the way they'll smoke a lot of pot, learn unorthodox new methods of hitchhiking, get involved with a gang of professional jewel thieves, liberate an orangutan from a medical research facilities, and, in one of the movie's most hilarious moments, crash the set of the fictitious Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season, starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.  (Be sure to look for Gus Van Sant, the director of the film-within-a-film, who plays himself, hysterically, as a greedy money grubber.)

The "road movie" has long been a staple of the comedy genre, and Smith uses it to good effect here.  Familiar faces from Smith's other "New Jersey" films pop-up, including the titular slackers from Clerks, the comic-book artists of Chasing Amy, Shannon Doherty from Mallrats (who reveals her dramatic range here by playing a bitchy actress), and far too many others to list.  The jokes fly fast and furious, with some real gut-busters in attendance, especially the opening scene, which reveals the origin of the friendship between our title characters.

But for every joke that succeeds, there's another -- and possibly two -- that don't.  Chris Rock, for instance, turns in a much-too-lengthy appearance as a racist movie director that didn't prompt a single laugh from me.  And while it's always great to see Mark Hamill in a movie, his appearance as a character called Cock Knocker (I'm not making this up) also seemed to last far longer than it should have; indeed, the movie's reliance on cameos for much of its humor wore quite thin on me.  How about employing humor by being funny, rather than trying to make us laugh because we recognize the actors on the screen?  (I'll excuse Wes Craven, director of the Scream trilogy, for brilliantly parodying himself.  His turn as the uncaring director of the latest Scream sequel prompts one character to quip, "Gee, Wes, you're not even trying any more, are you?")

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, as funny as it (sometimes) is, nonetheless feels like a step backwards in Smith’s evolution as a filmmaker -- as if, having just made the thought-provoking and universally praised Dogma, he anticipated a critical backlash and tried to deflect it by deliberately making a film that pokes fun at itself.  This is literally a critic-proof movie -- it spends far too much time kidding itself (and indeed, the whole entertainment industry in general) for any such criticism to work.  In terms of tone, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back feels more like, say, a hypothetical sequel to Mallrats than the next logical step in Smith's career evolution.  And since Mallrats is Smith's most polarizing work -- fans either adore or despise it -- this revelation should tell you everything you need to know.  I'll also mention that the flick contains the only fart joke that has ever, to my knowledge, made me laugh; however, it also features a bunch of others that did nothing but irritate me.

Certainly, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is, at times, a funny movie.  But it's not a great one, basking as it does in needless celebrity cameos, a number of pointless explosions, and enough gay and fart jokes to (ahem) choke a chicken.  There's some unintentional irony here -- it stinks of hypocrisy that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which seems determined to flaunt its indie heritage and personally make friends with each and every member of the audience, nonetheless boasts a multi-gazillion dollar advertising campaign and a soundtrack album featuring the likes of Bon Jovi and Marcy Playground.

With the retiring of these characters, Smith stands at a crossroads in his career -- will he jettison the immature aspects of his earlier work to embrace a more thoughtful style?  Only time will tell.  Rumor has it that Smith has been tapped to write and direct a new Fletch film as his next project, possibly to star Ben Affleck as a younger incarnation of the title role.  While this news is unconfirmed as of this writing, it seems an ideal way for Smith to sever ties with his earlier work, while continuing to embrace the comedy and verbal wit for which he is known and admired.

Written and 
Directed by:

Kevin Smith

Jason Mewes
Kevin Smith
Renée Humphrey
Shannen Doherty
Ben Affleck
James Van Der Beek
Jason Biggs
Matt Damon

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







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