Whatever his shortcomings as a writer-director—and he has plenty, from his incompetent staging to his undisciplined screenplays to his juvenile take on adult themes of love (Chasing Amy) and religion (Dogma)—Kevin Smith has proven to be an exceptional self-promoter. Genial, unpretentious, and eminently accessible to fans and detractors alike, Smith has nurtured a rabid following through signings, merchandise, and the message board on his popular web site, ViewAskew.com. A feature-length valentine to his burgeoning cult, Jay And Silent Bob Strikes Back is the movie equivalent of an Internet-only album, a navel-gazing indulgence made exclusively for hardcore fans. Packed with nudging references to the Smith oeuvre, in addition to a steady diet of lame movie parodies, lowbrow scatology, and system-approved digs at the Hollywood system, Jay And Silent Bob runs the View Askew-niverse through a pop-cultural hall of mirrors. Characters, settings, catchphrases, and icons from Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma all make cameo appearances, attaching extra quotation marks to old gags and trivializing Smith's recent bouts with maturity. The concept was doomed from the start: Normally limited to brief, unfunny appearances in each of Smith's films, Jay and Silent Bob—a stoner Groucho-and-Harpo team played by Jason Mewes and Smith, respectively—are like sidekicks stranded in a TV spin-off, View Askew's version of The Ropers. Upon learning that Miramax plans to turn their comic-book alter egos, Bluntman And Chronic, into a film without paying them royalties, the duo embarks on a road trip from New Jersey to Hollywood to sabotage the production. For the most part, their encounters on the road are brief and celebrity-laden, with minor turns by George Carlin as a hitchhiker, Carrie Fisher as a nun, and numerous Smith regulars (Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, and many more) reprising roles and often playing themselves, too. The one major detour involves the leaden Shannon Elizabeth as one in a group of Charlie's Angels-esque hotties who seduce the pair into joining them on a heist. This interminable subplot bogs the film down just as it should be gaining momentum for the studio-lot climax, but it's only the most egregious example of the shapelessness that infects much of Smith's writing. Even at a slim 95 minutes, Jay And Silent Bob lets initially funny scenes trail off into long-winded monologues and silly digressions, as if he were too much in love with the first draft to do any cutting. Smith has always needed a shrewd editor, but anyone who thinks a warmed-over parody of The Fugitive was worth committing to celluloid may be beyond hope.
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