Following in the shadow of Clerks., Mallrats and Chasing Amy, 1999’s Dogma denotes filmmaker Kevin Smith’s most ambitious motion picture to date. After dabbling in down-to-earth comedy and a sensitive, mature love story, Dogma is more or less Smith’s Life of Brian; a sarcastic, humorous exploration of the realm of religion, personal beliefs, Roman Catholicism and God. However, it doesn’t really attack religion; it instead provides a fascinating treatise on the topic, supplemented with foul-mouthed dialogue and dick jokes. The resultant motion picture is intelligent, thoughtful, bold and irresistibly entertaining; one of the finest movies on Smith’s filmography.
Angels Loki (Damon) and Bartleby (Affleck) were banished from heaven hundreds of years ago, but the pair plan to get back in by exploiting a loophole they have discovered in Catholic dogma. If they successfully gain entrance back into heaven, however, it would prove God to be fallible, and thus end all of existence. To stop them, an angel named Metatron (Rickman) enlists the help of abortion clinic worker Bethany (Fiorentino), who may be a direct descendent of Christ. Travelling to New Jersey to thwart the plans of the renegade angels, Bethany is accompanied by Rufus (Rock), Christ’s forgotten 13th Apostle; a muse-turned stripped named Serendipity (Hayek); and the irresponsible duo of Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith).
Running at a hair over two hours, Dogma is the longest View Askewniverse flick to date, but it has no trouble maintaining interest. The flick is exceedingly fun, another trademark collection of witty dialogue and entertaining characters. Ever the geek, Smith also worked a lot of film references into his script, as to be expected. Among the targets are Star Wars (no surprise), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Alien, A Clockwork Orange and E.T., and the characters deconstruct pretty much every John Hughes movie to date. It’s funny stuff, and it gives Smith’s geeky fans more material and in-jokes to absorb. Admittedly, though, Dogma does grow a tad convoluted as it reaches its climax, digging into religious babble without sufficient explication.
Since this is a religious-themed comedy, Dogma provoked a lot of controversy in the lead-up to its release, to the extent that the distributors got cold feet. Hence, Smith opens the picture with a side-splitting disclaimer defending both himself and the movie, basically stating that nobody should be offended since this is just a movie not to be taken seriously. Smith’s words are roll-on-the-ground hilarious, in the vein of the opening credits sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. More than this, Smith seems to be selling himself short, as Dogma is more thoughtful than he apparently wants to let on. Smith imbued his script with theological ideas, questioning Jesus Christ’s ethnicity (Rufus maintains that he was a black man) and opening up a can of worms regarding God’s gender (the angels bounce between using He and She, and God is ultimately played by Alanis Morissette). Furthermore, Dogma explores the function of angels and the role of church in modern times. It’s nothing too deep, but it makes for serious food for thought. Consequently, you’ll laugh and have a ball with the film, but you will also be left thinking when the end credits expire.
Smith was working on a $10 million budget here, the biggest budget the filmmaker had ever been given at the time. It’s appropriate, as Dogma is large in scale and required proper funds to give life to Smith’s vision of unhinged religious insanity. As a result, the movie is permeated with a great deal of comedic energy, though Smith’s direction remains workmanlike and somewhat uninspired. Dogma could’ve been better if Smith delegated directorial duties to a more accomplished visual craftsman, but this is nit-picking since the film is fun enough as it is. Plus, the production design is awesome, with creative-looking angels and a side-splitting statue of Christ that fast turned into an internet meme.
The cast is fucking legendary, one of the biggest masterstrokes of Smith’s filmmaking career. It’s a massive cast packed with recognisable actors, amplifying the entertainment value a hundredfold. Chris Rock is particularly hilarious here, playing the 13th Apostle who was close friends with Christ but was written out of the bible by prejudiced white people. Rock is a gifted comedian, and he was born to deliver Smith’s side-splitting dialogue. Real-life best friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are equally fun as the renegade angels, with Affleck much less irritating than he usually is. Meanwhile, Jason Mewes and Smith are funny and energetic as their proverbial characters of Jay and Silent Bob. As protagonist Bethany, Linda Fiorentino is watchable if unremarkable, while Alan Rickman hams it up and chews the scenery playing an angel. Also present here is Smith regular Jason Lee, who disregards his other characters in the Smith cinematic universe to play a demon. Rounding out the main players is the indescribably sexy Salma Hayek, whose introductory stripper dance is the best thing ever glimpsed in a Kevin Smith movie. Even comedian George Carlin shows up here playing a Cardinal, a concept that’s offensive by itself to the devoutly religious. Carlin is a very funny man, so his presence and delivery is very much appreciated.
Ho-hum filmmaking style aside, Dogma is a whole lot of good-natured fun. It’s definitely one of Smith’s finest outings as a writer, with movie references, classy jabs against religion, and enough character and situational comedy to keep anyone entertained. The fervently religious will probably react too sensitively to the flick, but anyone with an open mind and a sense of humour will have a ball with this one.