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KEVIN SMITH GROWS UP THE DIRECTOR OF 'DOGMA,' 'CHASING AMY' TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OWN ACTIONS.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Writer

Ego. It seems to get the best of everyone in the movie business.

Even Kevin Smith.

Yes, the so-uncool-he's-cool, Jersey-based auteur of ``Clerks,'' ``Mallrats,'' ``Chasing Amy'' and ``Dogma'' has finally gone Hollywood with his latest movie, ``Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.''

It's all about Smith's experiences as the filmmaker whose cult of college students, comic book readers, Internet film geeks and Quick Stop employees everywhere have only encouraged him to put more of his unfailingly vulgar, sometimes brilliantly askew views of the world up on the screen. The portly fellow is in practically every scene of the new movie, too, playing the mostly mute sidekick to Jay, a speedy trash-talker based on and performed by the filmmaker's neighborhood pal, Jason Mewes. It's about the two dope-addled dopes trying to stop a movie from being made about them by the company that's made most of Smith's films, Miramax.

And in typical Kevin Smith fashion, it's the kind of comedy that's least flattering as it can possibly be to ... Kevin Smith.

Time to split

``I think this is it,'' says Smith, 31, an insightful, open and totally self-effacing raconteur, about what he's declared to be the final screen appearance of Jay and Silent Bob, who have popped up in all of his previous films. ``Rather than beat a dead horse or have them overstay their welcome, it's just time to leave the party before we're the last guys there. It feels like we're getting out when the getting's good, before they really get tired. Remember when people used to love Pauly Shore and went around going 'Hey, buddy,' and then one day everyone hated Pauly Shore? I don't want to be Pauly Shore.''

Small chance of that happening. For two things, Smith is both smart and funny, which nips any Shore comparisons in the bud. On top of that, for all of his legendary lack of cinematic style, he makes distinctively personal movies that can be mistaken for no one else's.

And he has a knack for getting himself in more trouble than most stupid comedy acts ever do: a big ratings battle over his expletive-riddled first feature, ``Clerks''; some concern over the upfront examination of bisexuality in ``Chasing Amy''; many more concerns over ``Dogma,'' a movie whose profane satire of everything Catholic caused Miramax to drop the picture like a hot potato and the churchgoing Smith to field cries for his excommunication ... and his head.

And now this one. More on that in a minute. First, Smith on the thinking behind what may well be his in-front-of-the-camera swan song:

``This movie is a quantum leap backward,'' he says, funny but not joking. ``We've not matured; we've just gotten so much worse. I think it looks better than the other movies; technically or visually speaking, we've kind of taken a jump. But I didn't really have an aim for this movie. The only agenda was just to make a flat-out comedy. After (what) we went through on 'Dogma,' it was just kind of nice to make joke after joke and not worry about whatever controversy, death threats and hate mail would come later.''

Well, the best-laid plans ...

Satire or slurs?

``We do understand that this is satire, but we also know that satire is often misunderstood,'' says the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's entertainment media director, Scott Seomin, who sent Smith a letter protesting Jay's numerous stupid cracks about homosexuality in the movie. ``Viewer impact is not what Kevin Smith intended. The overall message is that if you are perceived to be gay, it's the worst thing that could happen to a human being.

``But I've got to say that Kevin called me within five minutes of getting my letter and was really concerned,'' Seomin adds. ``We spent an hour on the phone and three hours speaking at his office; it was a great meeting. At the end, we disagreed; I believe that this movie encourages homophobia, and he believes it does the opposite. But we've never said that Kevin Smith is a homophobe; I think he's a great guy.''

To prove it, both Smith and Miramax made separate donations to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization named for the brutally murdered gay youth. And Smith wrote a long, mea culpa-cum-defense on his production company's www.viewaskew.com Web site.

``I accept the fact that some folks seeing the flick may not get the joke behind the joke, and just walk away thinking 'Jay and Silent Bob don't wanna be gay, man! Just like me!' '' Smith writes. ``However, I also know - based on posts I've read on this board, following the release of 'Chasing Amy' and 'Dogma' - that some folks in that same demographic will walk away from this movie a little more tolerant toward the gay community.''

Well, at least the gay jokes, and about a million other foul lines Jay and other characters - played by everyone from longtime Smith collaborators Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to ``Star Wars' '' Mark Hamill and Smith's own wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, and their baby daughter, Harley Quinn - spout throughout the piece managed to get in without a commercially restrictive NC-17 rating this time.

``I'm not worried about them trying to sell it to kids; they can't in the current climate,'' Smith says of the even more censorious atmosphere ``Strike Back'' is coming out in, compared to the pre-Joe Lieberman era ``Clerks.'' ``I think our audience will show up to see it. I hope more people will come, but if our audience shows, that's just peachy/creamy with me. I mean, am I going to get invited over to Lieberman's house anytime soon? Probably not, unless he just wants to discuss cuts in the movie. Other than that, I'm not sweating it.''

The hand that feeds

That's the second time Smith has expressed disdain for commercial considerations. To complete this trifecta of attempted professional suicide, consider all of ``Strike's Back's'' jokes at the expense of Miramax, whose genre division Dimension Films, which is run by company head Harvey Weinstein's brother Bob, is distributing.

``I said, 'Remember that movie of ours that you dropped last year? This is payback,' '' Smith says, again humorously but probably not joking. ``When I handed in the script, Bob loved it because all the jokes were about Harvey and Miramax, and Dimension gets away scot-free, because I know where my bread's buttered. But he passed the script over to Harvey and Harvey called and said, 'What did I ever do to you?' He was joking around.

``But they're smart, they're very savvy. And the jokes are definitely jabs, but they're kind of playful. So I guess they figured that, rather than anyone else, let's have someone within the family say it - 'At least he's not taking the picture over to Lions Gate and making Miramax jokes.' ''

And then there's the general selmmolation of being associated on-screen with the actively offensive Jay ... not to mention having to act, even to the minimal extent that Smith does.

``I'd much prefer just to direct,'' he says. ``On this movie, the nature of the beast was such that I spent almost equal time in front of and behind the camera. Thankfully, I don't have to memorize dialogue that much, except for, like, one or two moments in the movie - which were hell! So I spent most of the time just reacting, because I don't really act. I just have three faces: the wide-eyes, the rolling eyes and one other one that's kind of nebulous.

``But now that we're done with them, I don't think I'll really act again; maybe just pop up for a line or something.''

Kissing off Jay and Bob also involves the sweet sorrow of taking away his pal Mewes' signature character ... just when the anything-but- professional actor was getting his groove down.

``Directing him has grown considerably easier over the five films that we've done together,'' Smith admits. ``In the beginning, with 'Clerks' and 'Mallrats,' it was like a puppet performance; I told him how to say something and he'd say it like that. From 'Chasing Amy' on, he got more comfortable doing it, kind of got his head around the notion of making a movie, and started accomplishing that stuff on his own.''

Family business

And while Smith vows to always find a part for Mewes in any of his future productions - if only to stop the guy from borrowing money for a little while - he now has to deal with a new cast of potential characters. And these he can't kick out of the house when they get on his nerves.

``Working with the wife was great, inasmuch as, like, you get to boss her around and get away with it,'' Smith cracks. ``I wish I could direct her in real life. But she was great. ...

``And it was a lot better than working with my kid,'' Smith adds. ``Thankfully, it was the second-to-the-last day of the show. The kid's supposed to be Baby Silent Bob (in a flashback). She's well-behaved up until the moment we yell 'Action!' Then the kid erupts. Just starts screaming, crying, calling out for us, wanting to get away, wanting to do anything but stand there and be silent. You don't see the six hours it took to get that eight seconds of good footage of her being calm.''

Professional embarrassment aside, Smith has taken to family life in a big way. He even claims to enjoy having his in-laws live with him, while admitting that the built-in baby-sitter factor is a big plus-factor. For all the controversy his very un-Hollywood honesty causes, Kevin Smith could hardly be more domesticated.

Or, for an apparent egomaniac, more humble.

``I do tend to be very flippant or whatnot,'' he admits. ``But I'm so not a bad boy. I wake up, go to work, come home from work and watch television. I don't go out, don't go to parties, don't indulge in any of the accoutrements that tend to come with this line of work. So I just don't think of myself in those terms.''

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- cover -- color) Mr. Smith goes to Hollywood

The director of `Clerks' and `Mallrats' concludes his New Jersey chronicles with `Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back'

(3) On the set of ``Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,'' Kevin Smith, left, (Silent Bob) and Jason Mewes (Jay) watch a playback of a scene from the film.

(4) Ah, fantasies! Among them, women in tight black leather: Ali Larter, left, and Shannon Elizabeth, with Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith ogling in the background.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 24, 2001
Words:1770
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