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IN SHORT: So clever it's better saved for videotape. [Rated R. 130 minutes]
As the film called Dogma begins, there are a number of title cards explaining that the film is a comedy, emphasizing that fact to the reviewers in the audience. All that is needed is some cheesy music and you'd have a lovely Monty Python-like beginning, fully in keeping with what is to follow. But, alas, no music.
I admit that all I know of Catholic dogma comes from Vertigo comics and Catholic girls I have slept with. Though I did spend a good decade studying the origins of the Church, nothing prepared me for writer/director Kevin Smith's Dogma, huge hunks of which sound like theosophical discussions I had with fellow students, after passing a well stoked bong. But that was a long time ago in the sovereign state of Illinois which, actually, figures prominently in the story.
And the bong reference is not unwarranted, 'cuz front and center in this flick are recurring characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob ("Jeff Anderson"), both seen in Smith's previous flicks Clerks and Chasing Amy. Jay is a stoner whose brain resides in the head not found on his shoulders and whose mouth is deserving of a wash with triple strength detergent. Bob doesn't speak. Much. Through coincidences way too coincidental to explain, they are believed to be Prophets of God by lapsed Catholic Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino). Why does she believe this? It's 'cuz the voice of God, Metatron (Alan Rickman), has told her so. He's also told her that two Fallen Angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), who have spent the last couple of million years in Wisconsin, have found a loophole by which they can reenter Heaven. Doing so will mean the end of all Creation, and God (Alanis Morisette) can't do anything about it because she's off somewhere playing Skee-Ball. To save the Universe, Bethany must travel from her home in Illinois to a church in New Jersey.
The trio of Bethany, Jay and Silent Bob are joined on their journey to New Jersey by the long dead 13th apostle, Rufus (Chris Rock) and an ex-Muse turned stripper (Salma Hayek). Also involved in the plot is a marketing scheme by the Catholic Church, in the form of Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) to make Jesus everybody's "buddy" and make the religion, in general, more people friendly. Another evil Angel named Azrael (Jason Lee) is doing his best to manipulate everyone. The Fallen Angels enjoy a killing spree, nothing like their earlier work on Sodom and Gomorrah, but bloody as Hell.
Waitasec, using the "h" word may have been a religious faux pas. Then again, Sodom and Gomorrah is in my Tribe's part of the Good Book, so I can say what I want . . .
This is the kind of stuff that Cranky should've lapped up like a kitten over a bowl of milk. Smith's script is fair, slamming other religions, both in words and in the visuals. The Roman Catholic Church has always been the side of a barn 'cuz of icons and rituals and dogma, and Smith takes his potshots right and left, with all the bong-inspired (sic) dialog explaining everything to everyone who never got ruler whipped by a nun. Problem is, he also laces the film with cultural references from things like Star Trek, The Karate Kid, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Incredible Hulk and other teevee shows and big screen extravaganzas. Cranky found himself more and more aware of the sly references and wound up spending more time waiting for them. It was a lot more fun than getting reamed by tons of explanatory dialog. Some you'll get. Some you won't. Cranky walked out thinking, "I'll have to get the vid to see what I missed." Which puts Dogma dead on at rental level.
Clever gimmicks, as much fun as they are, should never detract from the story. It's as simple as that.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dogma, he would have paid...
Warrants are still outstanding on Smith, by the way, as Accessory to the Murder of Karen Page.
If you understand that, or the "Jeff Anderson" credit, you'll get most of the references in the movie as well. If you don't, well, you won't feel as if you've missed anything.
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