Monday, November 17, 2008

Kevin Smith retrospective - DOGMA (1999)

After CHASING AMY came Kevin Smith's most intellectually ambitious movie yet, DOGMA. The budget was back up to 10 mil and with it we got the same problem as with MALLRATS - poor quality professional actors unused to handling Kevin Smith's particular brand of dialogue. The bigger and more fundamental problem was that DOGMA was simply too ambitious a project - trying to satirise organised religion, specifically the Catholic Church and its apocryphal beliefs.

The plot is actually pretty simple. God speaks to an abortion clinic clerk and lapsed Catholic called Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) in the guise of Metatron - the voice of god (Alan Rickman). This sarcastic British angel tells Bethany to go to a church in New Jersey and stop two pissed off fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) from bringing about Armageddon. Bethany will be helped by two prophets aka Jay and Silent Bob and will meet a muse (Salma Hayek), a disciple (Chris Rock), and various evil guys (Jason Lee et al).

The result is basically a road movie upon which Kevin Smith hangs various skits that expound upon his beef with organised religion. There are no great insights here - the usual teen angst stuff most Catholics go through - and for every clever gag that raises a laugh there are nine others that don't. (It's telling that the funniest line in the movie wasn't written by Smith but was ad-libbed by Chris Rock). There's just too much going on and too little feeling of a strong hand organising all the material. In addition, Smith isn't helped by a weak and uncharismatic centreal performance from his leading lady, or indeed minor players such as Hayek. Then again, it's hard to feel any sympathy for a man who casts Alanis Morisette as god.

What can I say? DOGMA is just a complete failure as a film, as far as I'm concerned. It was all the more disappointing because it was the first Kevin Smith film that I watched on the big screen - the brilliantly bizarre Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford. Still, I'd rather see a movie fail through vaulting ambition than through sterile cliche.

Bethany: Then - I don't mean to sound ungrateful - but what are you doing hanging around?
Jay: We're here to pick up chicks.
Bethany: Excuse me?
Jay: We figure an abortion clinic is a good place to meet loose women. Why else would they be there unless they like to fuck?

DOGMA played Cannes and Toronto 1999 and opened in 1999 and 2000. It is available on DVD.

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