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[whitespace] Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
Touched Angels: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play a pair of naughty seraphim looking for quickie redemption in 'Dogma.'

New Jersey Devil

Kevin Smith's 'Dogma' is funny as hell and twice as sloppy

By Richard von Busack

KEVIN SMITH'S NEW FILM, Dogma, is part sophomoric silliness, part Buñuelian clerical satire. The mix is so thorough that you have to take it all in one sloppy lump. The film follows a New Jersey cardinal's foolish attempt to market an underattended church by offering plenary indulgences. These are spiritual car washes for us Catholics: one pass through the church and your soul is cleansed. (The custom is extinct now, unfortunately.) Two fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) head to Jersey to sneak into the church, get grace and return to heaven. If they accomplish this trick, however, God will be proved fallible and the universe will end.

Opposing this dangerous pair is a lapsed Catholic (a typically cranky Linda Fiorentino), an apostle (Chris Rock), an angel of the Lord (Alan Rickman) and two prophets: Smith's regular Abbott and Costello team of Silent Bob and Jay, played by Smith and Jason Mewes. As befits a movie with this pair, Dogma has both bright wit and dumbbell comedy. The low point is Smith unleashing a poo-poo monster attack in a strip club, a bit of business fit to make the kids at the lunch bench squirt milk through their noses. In the finale, an angelic attack on a crowd of worshippers, Smith's comic-book-clotted mind is at its most fertile. It's a reminder that old-time religion is the fountain not just of all hope but of all horror as well.

Smith (Chasing Amy, Clerks) has made enemies with Dogma, which has been canned for months due to controversy. The film offends only the letter of religion, not the spirit. Smith doesn't feel like questioning the idea of God, just the experts who suppose they know His will. Catholic anger may have meant less to Disney/Miramax, which dumped Dogma, than the transgression of the scene in which the Angel of Death ventilates the board of directors of a very Disney-like entertainment behemoth.

While I admire Smith's rebelliousness, I want him to learn more visual storytelling so that every image in his films doesn't reiterate every line of dialogue. I want him to learn to edit out his dumber ideas, and I want to remind him about what happened to Mel Brooks, who got stuck permanently at the class-clown level. Watching a Kevin Smith movie, I know exactly how the nuns in his school must have felt. I want to praise his talent while demanding more discipline from him.

Dogma (R; 130 min.), directed and written by Kevin Smith, photographed by Robert D. Yeoman and starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Linda Fiorentino, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose and at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the November 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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