Kevin Smith makes a long overdue, but very welcome return to the View Askewniverse with his latest film, ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’.
Writer and director Kevin Smith marked his place in Hollywood history twenty five years ago with a low budget black and white indie flick named Clerks. With the naivety of youth on his side, it was a ballsy move that paid off. Smith amassed significant personal debt on credit cards to make his first film and the critics loved it. Striking the right tone with a disaffected generation, the film amassed a loyal cult following. Through his subsequent films, podcasts and famous Q&As, that fan base has become his own.
The affable filmmaker followed up Clerks with Mallrats a year later. The film shared subtle plot points and carried forward two standout characters from the former. Jay, played by Smith’s friend, Jason Mewes, and Silent Bob, a role he took on himself. Though arguably more fun than Clerks, Mallrats didn’t enjoy the same level of commercial success.
By this point Smith was intent on building a cinematic universe long before Marvel Studios cottoned on to the idea. Known as the View Askewniverse, a term coined from the name of Smith’s production company, View Askew, cross-over references and familiar actors and characters featured in more of Smith’s films. Chasing Amy and Dogma both featured Jay and Silent Bob as ever presents. The pair would later resurface in Clerks II in 2006.
Five years before the Clerks sequel, in 2001, and having previously been predominantly supporting cast in the preceding films, the dysfunctional pair would star in their own right in Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back. A farcical plot where the two learn that a film is being made about characters based on Jay and Bob. They embark on a trip to Hollywood intent on sabotaging the production.
With each film Smith’s shine began to fade. Die-hard fans provided a guaranteed level of interest, but over time – and understandably – Smith’s own commitment to the View Askewniverse began to wane. The filmmaker explored new creative directions. His 2011 film, Red State, provided a glimpse of the kind of writer Smith could be if he ever chose to abandon the dick and fart jokes. It was a dark thriller loosely based on the extreme religious principles of the Phelps family, founders of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.
Around this time Smith even announced that he would quit making movies altogether, a stance he soon abandoned. A change of heart that seemed questionable for a time. His films Tusk and Yogahosers were poorly reviewed and tested the loyalty even the most hardcore Kevin Smith fans.
It would be unfair to suggest that Smith’s career went into free-fall though. He’s become a regular director of the CW’s ‘Flash’ and ‘Supergirl’ series and continues to make a living from podcast and speaking gigs between smaller scale projects of his own, like a television mini-series ‘Hollyweed‘.
As we near the end of the decade, and twenty five years after he unleashed Clerks on the world, Kevin Smith returns once more the the View Askewniverse. Given his recent film making form it was with some trepidation that I set out to watch ‘Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’. The film has a very limited run in the UK with only a handful of cinemas screening the movie in London.
Billed largely as a self-parodying remake of Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back the essence of the plot is essentially the same. Reboot offers quite a bit more than a recycled plot though.
Kevin Smith has always been self referential in his films, but Reboot is the ultimate tribute to his twenty five year long career. Just about every character from Clerks, Mallrats et al make a cameo during the modest one hour forty five minute run time of the film. Even a late reconciliation with Ben Affleck saw the former Batman return to work with Smith for a fairly pivotal moment in the plot.
There’s never a dull moment. The film ticks along at a satisfying pace, in part due to the many cameo moments, but also surprisingly so given Smith’s propensity for lengthy dialogue.
At its core the story is heartfelt. A daughter pining for her absent father on a mission to fulfil a friend’s dream. Only Jay and Silent Bob can help them in their mission with a surprising reveal for potty mouthed Jay. Yes the film is farcical and as you’d expect it’s full of base humour. But not as crass as some of Smith’s previous films. It’s gentler, more rounded with genuine laugh out loud moments.
Ultimately though, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is a film for the fans. It’s an hour and three quarters of spotting familiar faces and collecting in-jokes. Getting the gag is half the fun, and it’s done well.
So not one for the wider audience. But for the fans Reboot is a triumph and arguably Kevin Smith’s best work to date. Not everyone will get it, but as a fan I loved it, and my faith in Smith’s film making abilities is once again restored.
Those that stick around to the end of the credits will be rewarded with a recorded Q&A with Smith and Jason Mewes. Smith also reveals that his next two films will also be set within the View Askewniverse. Fans can look forward to Clerks III and Mallrats 2.
Exciting news, but given the notable absence of Clerks star Jeff Anderson from the cast list of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, one wonders if the actor will return to reprise his role as Randal Graves in the third instalment?