Jay & Silent Bob Reboot

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/21/20;
Lionsgate;
Comedy;
Box Office $3.41 million;
$19.98 DVD, $21.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some nudity.
Stars Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Lee, Fred Armisen.

The latest addition to Kevin Smith’s View-Askewniverse is an unexpected treat for longtime fans of the filmmaker’s work. That it even exists is somewhat of a miracle.

Smith had been trying to make Clerks 3, but when one of the key actors dropped out, he shelved the project. With progress on a Mallrats sequel also stalled, Smith instead wrote another “Jay & Silent Bob” movie, with the urging of his long-time friend and co-star Jason Mewes, who plays the stoner Jay in the films alongside Smith’s Silent Bob. But before production began, Smith suffered a heart attack in early 2018, though he eventually recovered.

As a result, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot might be Smith’s most personal film since 1997’s Chasing Amy, though in a completely different way. Where that film, his third, was an introspective rumination on the fleeting nature of young love, his latest romp is a comedic reflection of his entire career, and more often than not a parody of it, while also taking aim at Hollywood’s penchant for remakes, reboots and an endless string of comic book movies.

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Chasing Amy also happens to be an apropos starting point for dissecting Reboot, since that’s the film that gave birth to the idea of the Jay and Silent Bob drug dealer characters being the inspiration for the fictional “Bluntman and Chronic” comic book featured at the heart of that film’s story.

Reboot unabashedly tells the same story, albeit updated, as 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, in which the duo, fearing damage to their reputations, trekked from New Jersey to Hollywood in an attempt to stop a film version of “Bluntman and Chronic” from being made.

Jay and Silent Bob end up profiting from that film (see Clerks II), but after 18 years the studio wants to reboot it, and through some legal maneuvers manage gain copyright control over the duo’s actual identities, preventing them from using their own names. As a result, they scheme to return to Hollywood to disrupt production of the reboot, too. The twist now is that the reboot’s director is Kevin Smith, playing a fictional version of himself.

Along the way, Jay and Silent Bob join forces with a rebellious teen (played by Smith’s real-life daughter, Harley Quinn Smith) and her friends, as they make their way to “Chronic-Con,” a blatant spoof of Comic-Con. Smith manages to work references to nearly all his previous movies into the adventure, including updating the audience on what happened to a few of the main characters from the shared universe (and even answering a 25-year-old question that lingered back to his original film, 1994’s Clerks).

This is all catnip for Smith’s fans, who can easily forgive the juvenile humor and crude behavior surrounding the central antagonists, even as the story veers off the rails in its final act. Such are the trademark selling points of Smith’s works, not drawbacks, in a way only someone such as Smith could get away with. These are at their core stoner comedies, after all.

Sophistication isn’t the goal here, just the boundless energy and sense of fun of a pop-culture-obsessed filmmaker embracing what he loves. Smith even manages to sneak in a few heartfelt moments of character, paying off decades of the audience’s investment in their stories.

And, seemingly as a result of the goodwill generated by the film’s roadshow tour, the departed Clerks III cast member decided to sign up after all, and it looks like that film is now a go, too.

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The film’s home video editions offer a few interesting, if somewhat unstructured, behind the scenes material. Primary among them is nearly an hour of cast interviews that have been cobbled together as some sort of ersatz making-of documentary. Presenting their thoughts without the framework of an interviewer, they mostly talk about their characters and the wackiness of the story.

Then, there’s a separate half hour of Smith and Mewes interviewing their co-stars.

Rounding out the extras are a 10-minute blooper reel and two minutes of Smith and Mewes fixing their Jay and Silent Bob hair.

 

Up in Smoke

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$12.99 DVD, $16.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt.

I’m running late on this vibrant-colored commemorative 40th anniversary paean to cannabis capers — and given the specifics of one gag that opens it, plus the disoriented and judgmentally addled states of its two protagonists, detractors could just as well call it a pee-on. But given that, for all its raggedness, Cheech & Chong’s screen debut has aged so much better than Jeff Sessions, attention must be paid — which is the same advice one might give to protagonists Pedro and “The Man” when they’re behind the wheels of motorized vehicles.

Up in Smoke was directed by record producer Lou Adler, and no one will mistake his mis-en-scene for the seamless elegance of, say, Josef von Sternberg’s in Criterion’s imminent Sternberg-Dietrich box set. Cheech & Chong, however, came from improv and knew how to play to an audience, and their album cuts were essentially sustained routines (at times, more sustained than the humor itself) with unexpectedly impressive sound effects. I became a fan listening them send up “Sister Mary Elephant” (on the Big Bambu LP) — where an understandably frazzled nun’s attempts to impose order with her ear-shattering “Shut Up!!!! screams on her suddenly silenced classroom were interrupted by a pupil aside. Even though these were the days of two stereo speakers and nothing else. the response seemed to come from about 20 feet in back to me and off to the side: “I gotta go to the can, man.”

Vinyl and concert popularity notwithstanding, the picture’s box office success came after everyone’s conventional wisdom (mine included) speculated that Paramount probably had another The Last of the Secret Agents? (which, in 1966, deservedly became the last of the Allen & Rossi comedies) on its hands. Matter of fact, I seem to recall that Steven Bach opens his great account of how Heaven’s Gate sank United Artists — Final Cut — with a lot of lot of old white-guy studio executives sitting in a studio screening room trying to figure out what Paramount’s genies were smoking inside their bongs.

Cheech is Mexican-American Cheech Marin, who — and I don’t say this lightly — is one of the greatest mimics ever. Tommy Chong (sometimes billed as Thomas, though it hardly fits) is a mix of Scots-Irish-Chinese raised in Canada. In later years, he was so persecuted by the U.S. government on a minor drug charge that a documentary was made about it (I have a copy) — but in terms of the act, he’s mostly a passive straight man to Marin despite displaying a pleasing personality on this set’s bonus interviews. Albeit one that probably couldn’t be mined because it would have thrown off the act’s dynamics.

Basically, the movie is about the twosome’s sole motivating force in life: getting stoned, with occasional breaks for band rehearsals and sex with buxom hitchhikers. Though it peters out some at the end — an affliction it shares with some of the team’s other and progressively inferior screen comedies — this hook sustains itself better than expected for much of its length. Much of this is due to casting more inspired than one might assume for a low-budget production that took six or seven years to get green-lit.

Right off the bat, there’s Strother Martin and Edie Adams (fading trophy wife) as Chong’s parents. We also get Tom Skerritt as a cousin and pot source who thinks he’s still back in Vietnam; and most of all, Stacy Keach as a narc who’s only a little less inept than his subordinates and whose K-9 police dog ends up on his back with all fours sticking up after picking or ingesting fumes from an entire van made of grass. Two of the bonus deleted scenes feature Harry Dean Stanton as a prison guard who sells pills at rip-off prices on the side, though he was edited out of the final release print. (Best of the excised clips is one where C&C try to smoke a joint that is half-made with Hamburger Helper in an attempt to cure the munchies problem in one fell toke).

At its best, this is funnier than most of the Abbott & Costello movies I’ve seen, in part because I’ve never been crazy about comics who lack a sexual dimension (and before you ask, W.C. Fields definitely had one). Everyone was talking at the time (well, I guess Alistair Cooke wasn’t) about the aforementioned van of pot and how it would interact with the exhaust fumes. And also the scene where the kind of woman who would smoke Hamburger Helper accidentally snorts Ajax and gets a still-funny rush that must have had the boys in the Colgate-Palmolive boardroom being if it was too late to change the ad campaign.

This was a rich brief period for distributor Paramount, the kind they haven’t seen in a while. There was the box office grosses of the godawful Grease to presumably off-set the commercial underperformance of Days of Heaven; Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, which scored with both critics and public; and then the surprise success of this poster child for stoner cinema to prove that not everyone was into Star Wars and the lesser galaxy rides it spawned.

As a footnote, I did my part to sustain the C&C spirit (coincidentally, as it turned out) by programming Maryjane with Fabian in the AFI Theater around the same time — a film series about high school and college, as opposed to a Fabian retrospective. I simply felt that the Kennedy Center could use some loosening up, and I didn’t have a key to the supply cabinet where they kept the Ajax.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Up in Smoke’ and ‘The Woman in the Window’