Film Reviews

Catholic Block

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Dogma is Smith's first film with what he calls "an A-list cast." He decided to pack the film with famous actors after speaking with Harvey Weinstein at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. Weinstein told him to get some "faces" in it, since he thought it would be a difficult sell. Affleck, who'd been in Mallrats and Chasing Amy, was one of the first to sign on and brought his sidekick, Matt Damon. "The whole cast of the movie really came together before everybody blew up. Ben and Matt were in before they became 'Ben and Matt.' We got [Chris] Rock in before he exploded, before he was on all the covers of magazines. It made us look really smart, but it had nothing to do with shrewd choice. It was just like, 'We like these guys, we can spend time with them, they can definitely do the role.' "

As the films have ranged from convenience stores and shopping malls to lesbian bars and holy sanctums, one thing that's stayed constant is the duo of Jay and Silent Bob. Smith himself plays Bob, a soulful fellow who rarely speaks, while longtime Jersey homeboy Jason Mewes plays Jay, a dope dealer and all-around slacker genius. To call him an amateur actor would be generous, but Mewes gives, with Chris Rock, the best performance in Dogma. Pierson calls the film "the grand triumph of Jay and Silent Bob," emphasizing the important of comic relief in a film that includes scriptural debates. Certainly, the appearance of characters who go back to the beginning of Smith's career adds to the film's personal quality. (Not everyone loves Mewes' character. One review of Clerks suggested he crawl back under the rock he came from.)

Smith wishes -- as do legions of Mewes fans -- that his shaggy blond friend acted more. "I did a series of Nike spots and put him in it.

They were like, 'Can you get someone to be in the commercials?' And I was like, 'Yeah, hold on,' and Mewes was on the couch. 'You want to be in a commercial?' and he was like, 'All right.' But he doesn't do enough. He should really concentrate on acting -- that's really what he's good at. He's not much good at anything else, but sometimes he works in our comic-book store, down in Red Bank. And before that he used to deliver pizza and do roofing, like between flicks.

"He's just not an actor like the other guys in the movie. Mewes just likes to go to the set and get free breakfast burritos and keep clothes that they buy him for the movie. That to him is like, 'This is great!' He's not really made that 100 percent commitment to the art form, to the craft of acting."

Smith recalls meeting Mewes only after hearing his legend spread through the malls, one-stops, and rec rooms of Monmouth County.

"The Jay character is more like Jason when he was about 15 than he is now. He was one of those cats who all he ever would talk about was pussy, though he'd never kissed a girl. But he's a great character, I think, because you get away with saying a lot of things with him that anyone else saying would come across as offensive. He's kind of got this gentle naïveté about him. It's definitely a gift. I don't know anyone else could pull it off. If we had Affleck saying the things that Jay says, it would probably be bad for his career."

Smith first developed an interest in matters of faith years before he made the film. After growing up Catholic, he began to have doubts about the perfection of the Bible. He became aware of the fact that the Good Book was written and organized by mere mortals. "So how could the Bible be God's word, especially if you have people pick up the Bible, flip to a passage, and go like, 'This passage is why we hate blacks, why we're supposed to hate blacks. And this passage is why God hates gays, fags.' So I was just like, 'Yikes.' This is not of God if you can make that kind of case.

"And around that time, people started to say, 'Well, you can't be a loosey-goosey Catholic. If you're Catholic, you've got to follow all the rules, you've got to agree with everything the church says.' You know, like in regards to abortion or in regards to the persecution of the gay community. Tithing, even. Sure, I don't mind giving my money to a worthy cause, but I don't know if the church needs my money."

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Scott Timberg