I am tempted to wax concerned that viewers headed out to Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back need to be veterans of Smith's previous movies in which his title characters have played supporting roles. However, armed only with a 1994 viewing of Smith's seminal Clerks (and no memory of Jay or Silent Bob), my wife accompanied me to a screening of the current film, and I hasten to report that she laughed almost as much as I did. So I'll restrict my warning to the following: Viewers must be tolerant of comedy that concentrates extensively on sex and must be able to overcome any appropriate distaste for bodily function jokes. Also, please leave your children at home. There were a dozen kids at the screening I attended and I would certainly hope none of them had a clue as to what was going on.
What passes for a plot in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back proceeds from a development in Smith's third film, Chasing Amy. For the uninitiated, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (writer-director Smith) are a couple of stoner slackers whose idea of the good life is hanging out at a convenience store in an aging New Jersey suburb. Jay is a motormouth and Silent Bob (surprise!) a man of few words. After emulating the derring-do of their comic book heroes at the end of Smith's second (and weakest) film, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob became the models for comic book artist Holden McNeill (Ben Affleck) and his partner Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) in Chasing Amy. In McNeill's imagination, Jay and Silent Bob use their slacker personae as cover for the heroic deeds of Blunt Man and Chronic. Well, time has passed. McNeill has chased, caught and lost Amy and sold his share of Blunt Man and Chronic to Banky, who has turned the property into a major motion picture. Problem is, as Jay and Silent Bob see things, Banky's riding the elevator and they're getting the shaft.
So with the clear sight of the thoroughly wasted, Jay and Silent Bob decide to halt filming on Blunt Man and Chronic until they receive their fare share of the loot, whatever that might be and they'd certainly be the last to know. Obstacle number one: They're at a convenience store in an aging New Jersey suburb, and Blunt Man and Chronic is being filmed on a sound stage in Hollywood. Obstacle number two: They haven't got money for bus fare to the city limits. So, have thumb will travel. And if the road adventures of Jay and Silent Bob lead them into an unwitting alliance with a female gang of international jewel thieves posing as a female gang of intranational animal-rights activists, well the object here is comedy, not narrative cohesion. Moreover, even imposter intranational animal rights activists can steer developments toward the inclusion of a monkey. And as everyone knows, the words monkey and comedy share a common derivation in ancient Egyptian, not to mention four actual letters in contemporary English.
Smith is an uncommonly talented comedic writer. Irredeemably dirty-mouthed and therefore blatantly offensive to many, Clerks remains one of the most uproariously funny movies ever made. Even the puerile and disappointing Mallrats has laughs enough to hold the viewer through the attendant nonsense. Happily, Smith proved in Chasing Amy and Dogma that he can tackle weightier subjects than casual drug use, casual sex and casual lifestyles. Because Chasing Amy concerned a straight man in love with a lesbian, Smith had to endure attacks from the political correctness police, and because Dogma addressed serious issues of religious faith, the possibility of redemption and even the nature of God, Smith was viciously and ignorantly skewered for sacrilege by the religious right. No such worries this time out, as Smith has forthrightly acknowledged a desire to make a film that will prove controversial for its verbal raunchiness alone.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back may best be compared to something by the Farrelly Brothers, like Kingpin. Both films share the episodic structure of the road story and the willingness to sink as low as necessary to deliver a laugh. Still, Smith's bedrock intelligence shines through in a way the Farrellys would eschew. The allusions to other films -- and there are dozens -- are defter than the Farrellys would bother with. Often, one suspects, Smith is satisfied to please himself with a reference and only marginally concerned with whether the audience spots the joke. Hence a brilliant riff on the pivotal bar scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon intellectually demolishes the Ivy League snobs. Reworked here, Smith calls Damon to task for failing to keep up with the latest scholarship about everything. Like everything else in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, this sequence is almost utterly inessential. But it reminds us how quick witted Smith is and makes us hungry to see where he heads now that he's put his slacker days behind him.
- Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) try to stop the action in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.