- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

Kevin Smith, Red Bank, N.J.'s, peculiar, irrepressible gift to coarse-minded and foulmouthed movie farce, seems to have crowned himself the official court jester of Miramax Films. The encouraging aspect is that this unchallenged act of presumption may prove mercifully fleeting; Mr. Smith is also touting his new comedy, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," as the swan song for a stooge act that began in his debut effort, "Clerks," in 1994. If the filmmaker can be trusted, he plans to retire Jay and Silent Bob and move on to pretexts and characters perhaps more appropriate for a humorist on the far side of 30.

A bargain-basement production, "Clerks" consisted of improvisational rants and revolved around the staff and customers at a convenience store in Red Bank. It introduced Mr. Smith and his sidekick Jason Mewes as amateur performers whose moronic shtick was destined to strike a sympathetic generational chord. They hung around as stoned young loafers nicknamed Jay (Mr. Mewes), a lewd motormouth and mush mouth, and Silent Bob (Mr. Smith), a mute frowner and gaper as a rule, usually alternating expressions borrowed from John Belushi or Burt Lancaster's estimable circus pal Nick Cravat, who also worked mute.

The characters returned in the subsequent Smith movies "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma." Now they merit their very own names-in-the-title picaresque misadventure, which begins with a good joke about the origins of their stunted personalities and then transports them in episodic lurches and bounds to California, where an apocryphal Miramax studio supposedly is exploiting their secondhand identities as the inspiration for a comic-book set of goofball superheroes, Bluntman and Chronic.

The movie's plot and battery of gags shouldn't cause undue bewilderment to latecomers, although it's advisable to give the entire system of humor a wide berth if you can't stomach wall-to-wall profanity and slapstick vulgarity. A glutton for punishment somewhere is keeping count, no doubt. I would estimate that variations on the f word adorn a vast majority of lines.

Moreover, the insy-ness of the remaining sources of humor may be diverting only to people who regularly follow the movies, sometimes to their keen regret. The Bluntman and Chronic characters figured prominently in "Chasing Amy," where the cartoonists responsible for the strip were principal characters. Ben Affleck, a member of the Smith ensemble since "Mallrats," played one of the cartoonists. He returns in "Strike Back" for something of a triple role. Initially resuming the identity from "Amy," he gets the exposition pointed west, informing the oblivious Jay and Bob that a Miramax version of "Bluntman & Chronic" is under way in Hollywood, with Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek as their counterparts.

Righteously indignant, the louts resolve to storm the studio and demand their cut of whatever pie might be available. Electing to hitchhhike when they discover that bus travel requires tickets, the shabby heroes cross paths with a lewd vagabond played by George Carlin; an irate nun played by Carrie Fisher; and a carload of mercenary babes, sort of nasty variations on Charlie's Angels, entrusted to Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter and Jennifer Schwalbach.

It's actually a quartet, with Shannon Elizabeth as the perversely salvageable member, Justice. She falls for Jay and eventually resolves to go straight. Spoofs of "Planet of the Apes," "Hannibal" and "The Fugitive" punctuate the trip.

Once in Hollywood, "Star Wars," "Good Will Hunting" and "E.T." also get Mr. Smith's slapstick treatment.


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