REVIEW: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back [2001]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 104 minutes | Release Date: August 24th, 2001 (USA)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director(s): Kevin Smith
Writer(s): Kevin Smith

“They don’t deserve their own movie”

It’s easy to forget that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was supposed to be the View Askewniverse’s final chapter. Writer/director Kevin Smith had finally decided to grow up (a relative term) and leave the foul-mouthed, pot-dealing miscreants he and Jason Mewes brought to life in Clerks (before subsequently popping-up in every film) behind. He even capped the credits with God (Alanis Morrisette) closing the proverbial book after corralling as many familiar faces and stars he could for what proved a self-conscious and self-referential feature length gay joke. No matter how many people wanted to blame his next film Jersey Girl‘s failure on Jennifer Lopez breaking Ben Affleck‘s cinematic and romantic heart, however, she didn’t force Smith right back to the well with Clerks II two years later.

The filmmaker would of course make more movies without the two sidekicks, but their “death” truly only lasted those short five years. What’s interesting about them as characters, however, is how they serve as a sort of litmus test for Smith’s evolution as a writer to turn certain jokes into comments on those jokes. This film in particular is the crossroads wherein the transition was moving in the right direction even if it wasn’t quite fully formed. Jay (Mewes) still can’t help himself from making homophobic comments about Silent Bob (Smith) loving cock or being as misogynistic as one person can be without punching a woman in the face. Is he learning thanks to his love interest’s (Shannon Elizabeth‘s Justice) patience? Sure. Is it enough? Not quite.

Smith was right to go that direction, though. If you’re bringing characters that succeed in small doses as periphery players to the forefront to lead their own film, you need to provide an arc if only to give us a reason to care. Rather than go all the way in making this journey about that growth, he concocts a wild adventure of pop culture references to kill time and ostensibly render them bit parts regardless of their top billing. Because them hitchhiking to Los Angeles to shut down the cinematic adaptation of Banky Edwards’ (Jason Lee) and Holden McNeil’s (Affleck) Bluntman and Chronic comic (which was based on Jay and Bob’s likeness rights despite not getting paid) is just an excuse for outlandish subplots that steal the spotlight.

We don’t remember what these two idiots do because they always do the same things. The people around them are what stick like George Carlin‘s sexually liberated hitchhiker, Carrie Fisher‘s accosted nun, or Chris Rock‘s militant director. We remember the hilariously self-deprecating cameos from Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, and Affleck (who along with Lee plays two roles). We remember the easy jokes like a Scooby Doo hallucination and the random activist/burglary thread starring Elizabeth, Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, and Jennifer Schwalbach Smith that hijacks a good chunk of the film. It’s the latter where Will Ferrell‘s Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly enters as a quasi villain way too late to truly care. Smith is creatively all over the place connecting the dots—so non-Askew fans beware.

I’d say fans should beware too, but die-hard Smith sycophants don’t worry about quality. I was with them back in 2001 and remain an apologist to this day despite hindsight pushing this film a tad lower than it already was upon leaving that first viewing underwhelmed. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is about fan service—both the glowing kind to give audiences what they crave and the critical kind to call them out for the online vitriol that Smith will be the first to admit to fueling on his old site’s message boards. He can toe that line and break the fourth wall, though, because he’s just having a gas with Harvey Weinstein’s money (whose involvement alongside multiple casting couch jokes leave a bad taste).

That’s the only way this project works, though, since Jay and Silent Bob don’t have the capacity for the heart Smith is capable of delivering. This is a road movie leaning into their naiveté and stupidity to make them patsies from frame one. How they survive to the end is often dumb, but there’s something to the other actors mocking themselves in the process. If letting these characters leave their spot outside the Quick Stop means giving Seann William Scott room to play against type or Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek an opportunity to feign self-loathing about their career trajectories, so be it. Leave it all on the floor if this is truly the swan song. The weirder the better since this is all she wrote.

Regardless of whether it stayed a finale or not, I get the desire to go full cartoon. That doesn’t mean the result touches Smith’s best work or that it’s even good. It is, however, fun to ride shotgun with them as they learn about the internet, befriend an orangutan, and reenact scenes from The Fugitive and Star Wars (the latter with Mark Hamill). Do we care about whether they stop the Bluntman and Chronic movie from getting made? No. As long as it provides the blueprint with which to reminiscence alongside Dante (Brian O’Halloran), Randal (Jeff Anderson), and many others, it’s worth the effort. I do think the book should have stayed closed afterwards, but maybe eighteen years will bring Smith’s Reboot perspective. I’m not holding my breath.

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