At this point, I don’t need to elaborate on why I adore Kevin Smith or the View Askewniverse, because it just isn’t really necessary – other than finding that he and I share a very similar sense of humor with certain things, Smith’s films always are very funny, endearing and in particular, his View Askewniverse is just such a well-constructed cinematic universe, the likes of which are hardly seen anymore. At the center of this universe are a pair of characters, Jay and Silent Bob, who are probably the last great comedy character duo (we have yet to see another emerging out of the current cinematic landscape). Jay and Silent Bob were the one aspect that tied the universe together and created a sense of continuity unlike anything we’ve seen recently. Now an entire movie exists about them – some people see that as a good thing, others see it as a terrible thing – I personally thought it was a great idea, maybe not in concept, but in execution.
The entire purpose of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is that of a joke. A massive, overdone running joke that is pretty simple – these two characters have had small but very popular roles in the previous films, and while never the focus of the films, they were bona fide scene-stealers that became increasingly popular as time went on – but it just so happens that Smith has a terrific sense of humour, and decided it would be a great idea to take these characters, who are undeniably an acquired taste, and giving them their own feature-length film – which was surely going to cause unbridled rage in people that hated the characters (but honestly, if you hate Jay and Silent Bob, what are you doing watching their film?), but it is also Smith’s very intelligent satire of Hollywood’s tendency to take popular supporting characters from films and television and give them their own spinoffs, which very rarely work (case in point – Saturday Night Live had a tendency to give their most popular characters spinoff films, but the only ones that were legitimately any good were The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World). What Hollywood failed to understand for many years was that just because a character was a fan favorite, and they developed substantial fan bases and had extreme popularity, doesn’t mean they are capable of holding an entire film on their own, and sometimes what makes those characters so great and so popular is that they are scene-stealers, where they aren’t given the lead role, but pop up every now and then.
Jay and Silent Bob are the perfect examples of this – I adore those two characters, but I never thought they could hold up an entire film by themselves – make no mistake, I am not going to magically call this an exception, because I still don’t believe they are characters strong enough to carry a film, but rather that wasn’t the intention of the film – the intention of the film was as a parody of Hollywood’s tendency to exploit every bit of popularity that they come across in order to make money – and while the characters weren’t strong enough to have an entire film centered around them, the film itself was a brilliant satire of Hollywood.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is one of the more traditional mainstream comedies from the early 2000s that we don’t really see anymore – it doesn’t have much of a story, but there is one, albeit a very loose one – after being served with a restraining order from pedalling their drugs in front of the iconic Quick Stop (the place where the entire View Askewniverse began in Clerks), the two titular characters discover that a film is being made based off the comic that used them as inspiration (as seen in Smith’s 1997 film Chasing Amy), and they travel from New Jersey to Hollywood in hopes of stopping the production. Along the way, they encounter a whole bevy of strange and colorful characters, such as a bizarre hitchhiker (George Carlin), a sweet nun (Carrie Fisher) and a group of international jewel thieves that use Jay and Silent Bob as their patsies, one of which Jay falls deeply in love with. Also chasing them along the way is a pedantic and useless wildlife marshall (Will Ferrell), who is pursuing them because they kidnapped an orangutan (it makes sense in the context of the film) – we hardly see road trip comedies like this made anymore, especially not ones that descend into moral ambiguity and wildly unrealistic chases (yet, they weren’t ever that bad, were they?). Of course, it can be said that there are enormous plot holes throughout the film, and it just honestly descends into insanity several times – but this is more of a satire than anything else, but even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been such a terrible film.
The problem with this film is Jason Mewes. I think he’s wonderful as Jay, but I grew a little tired of him here, because the character, while incredibly popular and always hilarious, is very much one-note, and it gets a bit much. I am saying that as one of Kevin Smith’s most passionate defenders – but the reason why Jay and Silent Bob work well is because they are great in small doses. I was not opposed to the idea of a Jay and Silent Bob movie, but it just seems a little misguided to not have much character development of the character. However, its tricky – if Smith just had Jay spewing off his beloved nonsense the entire film, it would be too much to handle, but if he developed the character and made him more three-dimensional, then there would be a risk the fans would be disappointed, and then Smith would also need to make sure that he followed this up in subsequent View Askewniverse films (at this point, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was supposed to be the last of the universe, only for it to be revived with Clerks II). Of course, the worst possible thing would be to include a tacky romantic subplot, which saddens me because Smith actually did it. It was completely unneeded, and while Smith’s films all include some form of romance, but if there was one where it wasn’t needed at all, it would be this one. It was the weakest part of the film, and honestly, the orangutan kissing Silent Bob was way more romantic than the actual romantic moments.
However, the best part of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was how mind-bending it was. Smith managed to combine the entire View Askewniverse into a single film, including references to all the previous films – and even in such a way that they completely confuse us, such as references to the characters watching Mallrats, and the fact that Ben Affleck both plays Holden McNeil (while giving commentary on Ben Affleck the actor), and then appearing as himself, with Matt Damon, who comment on the fact that they were forced to star in Dogma…which featured Jay and Silent Bob as characters. Smith uses this film as a platform to spew undeniable truths about Hollywood and the nature of the film industry, and he makes some absolutely scathing comments on the current state of film – but considering he would eventually try and enter into the mainstream cinema world, the exact thing he is criticizing here, we have to wonder if Kevin Smith is a genius or a hypocrite – but I do believe that he is the former, because he manages to show a side of Hollywood rarely seen on film, and his satirical view of the film industry is truly something to behold.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is not a bad film in any regard – in fact, it is a pretty good film. It isn’t the pinnacle of Smith’s filmmaking career, but it is still very entertaining. I honestly believe that Smith needs to return to the View Askewniverse, because it is a far better construction than any of his other films have been, and I feel so much can be done with these characters. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back might not be the best movie he’s made, but it is certainly a good one and shows that Smith is capable of making something that both criticizes and fits into the mainstream, which is not an easy task.