Saturday, April 02, 2005

Movie Review: Dogma

United States, 1999
U.S. Release Date: 11/12/99 (wide)
Running Time: 2:05
Rated: R (Profanity, sexual references, violence)
Cast: Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, George Carlin, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Alanis Morissette

Director: Kevin Smith
Producer: Scott Mosier
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Music: Howard Shore
Studio: Lions Gate Films

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When Kevin Smith began his writing, directing, and acting career with the independent film Clerks, he amazed all with his brilliant ideas and witty dialogue. He then downgraded a bit, with the John Hughes-inspired Mall Rats, but eventually regained his stature with the mature and unblemished Chasing Amy. Following his first three successful, yet small-budgeted, films, Smith was finally handed a handsome hunk of cash to make his fourth feature, Dogma. With its blockbuster budget, well-written screenplay, and A-list of actors, Dogma provides a satirical and comedic depiction of religion and faith that rewards more than it blasphemes.

Two angels Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), who have been banished from heaven for their past transgressions, have found a dogmatic loophole enabling their re-entry into the divine kingdom. Apparently, if the angles enter the gates of Cardinal Glick’s (George Carlin) newly reformed Catholic Church, in Red Bank, New Jersey, then their misdeeds will be erased and they can die with souls that are free of sin.

However, considering the exiled angels’ admittance into heaven would unprove that God is infallible, and in doing so would unmake the universe, Metatron (Alan Rickman) - God's messenger - appears to unite a team to put a stop to Loki and Bartleby. He first recruits "The Last Scion" – a young woman who works in an abortion clinic named Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) – and tells her that it his her job to prevent the cataclysmic apocalypse from occurring. Bethany journeys to New Jersey; along the way, she is accompanied by two stoner prophets named Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), the 13th Apostle named Rufus (Chris Rock) - who is still bitter about being left out of the New Testament - and a muse named Serendipity (Salma Hayek). In order to save creation, this crack-squad of heroes must stop the two errant angels before it is too late.

Kevin Smith does a fine job with the screenplay—incorporating apt movie references, zingy one-liners, and clever conversations on creed. The writer’s references to Star Wars, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Karate Kid, The Piano, and many more, are a treat to see on screen. In addition, Smith’s "shit demon" not only shows a hint of homage to the demise of Chip in John Hughes’ Weird Science, but also creates a comedic sequence mid-film.

Above and beyond the film’s hilarious sequences, just about every one of Jay’s lines is raucous, yet riotous. Even though Smith assigns Mewes to deliver all of the film’s funniest lines, Chris Rock ad-libs a few good ones to boot. But again, Kevin Smith shows his shimmer by stepping out on the right foot with the greatest opening disclaimer of all-time.

As far as the religious components go, Dogma discusses the ubiquitous hypocrisy associated with modern-day followers of religion. While the film isn’t preachy, it certainly isn’t pro-organized religion either. Dogma asserts, "It doesn’t matter what faith you have; it is just that you have faith." Dogma touches on the importance of celebrating your faith instead of mourning it, and the picture tackles the roots of misogyny by selecting an "ironic" choice to play God.

On the whole, it is rare to run into an appealing comedy concerning the end of the world, but Dogma provides an intelligent, non-fundamentalist elucidation of the day of reckoning. It may be soiled with potty humor and foul language, but it is topped off with good quality writing. Overall, Dogma is a comedic fantasy that should be taken with a grain of salt. It is one wild ride that bridges both earthly and ethereal planes. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005