The pop culture comedy of Generation X has been characterized by an interesting dichotomy. On one end of the spectrum are the winking cynicism and self-deprecation of “The Simpsons” and “Pulp Fiction.” On the other end are the ham-fisted self-awareness and kitschy 70’s references of pretty much every Janeane Garofalo vehicle of the past decade.
The filmography of writer/director/actor Kevin Smith falls vaguely in the middle of this spectrum, inching more and more towards the latter end with every new release. “Clerks,” in 1994, was an amateurish (if not well-intentioned) debut for Smith that displayed the then 24-year-old’s burgeoning potential. His next project was ostensibly a “Clerks” in color (“Mallrats”), followed by two lame attempts at discussing adult subject matter (“Chasing Amy” and “Dogma”) with the same dick-and-fart joke style of their predecessors.
Prior experience of the Smith catalog turns out to be more of a headache for the viewer than a blessing. The first and last 20 minutes of Smith’s latest and final entry in the New Jersey Chronicles, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” trot out any and every retread, re-quote, or re-enactment of popular scenes and catchphrases from his first four films. It’s actually symptomatic of the entire film, acting like one great big ViewAskew.com infomercial and the world’s most ill-conceived inside joke at the same time.
The film doesn’t really pick up any momentum until the stoner duo set out for Hollywood in order to stop production on a movie based upon their Bluntman and Chronic characters. Jay (Jason Mewes, “Clerks”) and Silent Bob (Smith) hitch rides across the country, eventually meeting up with Justice (Shannon Elizabeth, “American Pie”). She and her gang seduce the pair into a scheme that has them stealing a monkey and eventually running from a wildlife marshall played by “Saturday Night Live’s” Will Ferrell. On the run from the law, they make it to Hollywood to stop the production of “Bluntman and Chronic” and quiet their dissenters on the Internet.
Formerly used as comic relief fodder in their first four films, Mewes’ and Smith’s respective characters bore a daunting task in taking lead roles for this film. They pull it off, with Mewes seeming to have stumbled upon some sense of comic timing and flair. Crass? Yep. Juvenile? You betcha. But damned if they aren’t funny. In addition, the two are well-backed by a cast of Smith fixtures (Jason Lee, Joey Lauren Adams), with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon turning in a hilarious send-up of “Good Will Hunting.”
Smith’s casts usually have enough charisma to make entertaining movies, but the same narcissistic fancies that plague the script of “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” were trouble in his other four films. His digressive, rambling style was cute the first time in “Clerks,” but it’s lost its luster after the fourth re-hashing. Long after scenes climax with a sardonic remark about Smith’s obsessive fans or mainstream Hollywood, characters continue on incoherent tangents, beating the joke into the audiences’ heads.
This film ends up feeling just too forced. Being Smith’s swan song to his hometown gang, it’s over-stuffed with filler jokes and other superfluities (like characters acknowledging the camera) that water down most of the smart, subtle humor. If, with “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” Smith is promising to leave the Jersey shoreline, here’s hoping he moves to Hollywood and buys a house right door next to Steven Soderbergh or David Mamet.