Say what you will about Dogma, but you can't fault it for a lack of ambition. You also can't fault it, despite the usual protests by those who can't stand the hint of heresy, for being anything other than a heartfelt expression of religious faith. But then the problems set in. The usual pleasures of a Kevin Smith film, particularly Smith's offhand, pop-culture-savvy humor, work as usual, but Dogma itself only works sporadically. Linda Fiorentino stars as an Illinois abortion-clinic worker (and last descendant of the same bloodline as Christ) who is visited by an angel (Alan Rickman) serving as the voice of God. Rickman instructs her to travel to New Jersey to prevent two fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) from entering a church led by a pompous, reform-minded cardinal (George Carlin) and thus violating a divine ordinance. Along the way, she's joined by Smith and Jason Mewes (playing the Jay and Silent Bob characters from Smith's previous movies), Chris Rock (as Rufus, the forgotten 13th apostle), and Salma Hayek (in this year's second most annoying portrayal of a muse). You have to admire a writer and director who takes the leap from dealing with issues (twentysomething working-class malaise, eccentric relationships, mallrats) to dealing with Issues (Good, Evil, God, etc.), but Dogma exhausts itself pretty quickly. Half of the film seems given over to explaining (and re-explaining) the cosmological mechanics of its universe, while the other half is devoted to scenes that don't advance the story in the least—particularly a sequence in which Damon slaughters a boardroom filled with sinful executives, one of many unexpectedly bloody episodes. But there's a more pervasive problem. Early on, Carlin introduces a new church program called "Catholicism Wow!," an image makeover with pop-art graphics and a Jesus portrayed as giving a thumbs-up to believers rather than suffering on the cross. It's a funny gag, but the religious conclusion that Smith's film reaches relatively early on—a sort of all-embracing, non-specific spirituality—doesn't seem all that different. Dogma is never dull, even at over two hours, and die-hard Smith fans will probably find a lot to like. But it's still a long way to go to get virtually nowhere.