2019 | rated R | starring Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Harley Quinn Smith | written & directed by Kevin Smith | 1 hr 45 mins |
I can’t think of another filmmaker in my lifetime who has had a career trajectory as baffling as Kevin Smith. Starting as the indie voice of goateed, slacker, but yearning Gen-Xers, Smith built a wonderful little world around periphery characters Jay and Silent Bob with his View Askew Universe, a celebration of all things New Jersey, comic book and Star Wars back before nerd culture was deemed cool. Smith reached his creative apex with the brilliant Dogma, ran a victory lap with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and then managed to re-capture the magic with the surprisingly great Clerks 2, each a reward for decades of viewership. In the last 2 decades Smith has re-branded himself over and over, shifting from studio films (Jersey Girl, Cop Out) to indulgent works that only amuse himself (Yoga Hosers) to empty horror (Red State and Tusk, two of the best looking movies of his career). The writer/director/podcaster/ comic book store owner/producer/host/guest does whatever he wants, which is great, but the constant identify crisis that causes him to flame his previous works and re-brand himself has made him harder and harder to follow. All of this informs Jay and Silent Bob Reboot another return to the View Askew universe he swore he’d grown out of; a film that turns the spotlight from superheroes and weed jokes back onto Kevin Smith himself.
It’s been 30 years since Clerks and Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) are still hanging out next door to the QuickStop. Another trip to court strips the duo of their names under a copywrite claim by the studio seeking to do a reboot of “Bluntman and Chronic” – the movie based on the comic based on the two stoners. Jay and Silent Bob revisit old friends and learn about reboots, Jay meets the daughter he didn’t know he had (Harley Quinn Smith) and Silent Bob fights the Klan all along a road trip to ChronicCon where they plan to stop director Kevin Smith from finishing the “Bluntman v. Chronic” reboot.
It’s a direct sequel to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but where that movie felt like an Easter Egg-packed reward for View Askewniverse loyalty, Reboot feels like a punishment for it. Smith’s best movies have always looked stagey and small, they’ve always had a scatological, juvenile humor and they’ve always had a cartoonish execution that balanced actors making goofy faces with genuine pathos and compelling characters. Echos of all of that are still here but everything rings like a tin drum. It’s not nearly as funny, as fun, as keenly observed.
And frankly, why would it be? The comic book geeks no longer have anything to prove. During the course of Smith’s career, comic book fans went from squirreling away their comics so girls wouldn’t make fun of them to being catered, even pandered, to by the popular culture. Nothing is more mainstream now than Batman jokes or Star Wars debates about stormtroopers. There isn’t much to push back against after the geeks inherited the Earth.
Reboot looks terrible and that’s really saying something for a Smith movie where it’s duct tape production is part of the charm. It’s got a tonally off dark horror movie grit to it. Smith muses on parenthood, doesn’t have a lot to say about movie reboots and goes predictably fanboyish on Marvel movies, including playing himself like a version of Tony Stark (not the only Iron Man reference in the film). The whole affair is a Where’s Waldo of cameos both from new faces (Justin Long winning the overacting award) and big stars who Smith got to stand in front of a green screen for an hour and familiar ones returning as their View Askew characters. It’s most frequently used jokes are nostalgic jolts of familiarity. The movie references range from the painfully obvious to Smith’s affection for Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (one of the film’s few genuine classic Askew gags).
More than anything Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is itself one big, exhausting retread, doubling back over the wreckage of a series that based on this is long past it’s prime. Maybe the long rumored Clerks 3 can recapture the magic. All of Kevin Smith’s best movies feel personal, but this one feels like a nakedly introspective look inside the head of a filmmaker who has let a few studio duds and internet trolls get to him and is working all that out on screen. It is meta on top of meta on top of meta and deeply unfunny.