Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Cinema File #347: "Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie" Review

Since becoming a professional podcaster, Kevin Smith has found a new sense of freedom in the projects he chooses to work on, increasingly catering to a niche audience of hardcore fans, myself among them. With films like Tusk and Anti-Claus on the horizon (not to mention a stage musical about a giant killer Jesus), this approach so far seems to be inspired, but then, a carefree attitude as to what his name gets attached to can also lead to things like Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie. Clocking in at just barely an hour with credits, it doesn’t really feel like a movie at all, more like a collection of web shorts edited together, or at best a failed pilot designed to replace the far superior Clerks animated series. If you’re into Smith and company’s work, and I mean really into it, maybe even more than I am, you will no doubt find much to be charmed by in the antics of this antiquated duo. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reason for anyone else, even casual Smith fans, to bother with it.

The last time Jay and Silent Bob had a film out with their names in the title, the result was basically one long gay joke intercut with references to Kevin Smith’s previous films seemingly in defiance of any call to mainstream acceptance. Then again, this was back in a time before the Internet’s capacity for micro-targeting had been fully realized. Now, the fact that only the faithful need apply doesn’t seem like much of a problem, or at the very least, the people behind this movie don’t seem to care about it. It’s interesting to note Smith’s recent anarchistic streak, considering this is the same director who once tried to ride the wave of Judd Apatow in a desperate bid to escape the prison of small scale indie film, but then that was probably the beginning of the end for Smith giving a shit about what other people thought of his work (Cop Out notwithstanding). As someone who values fealty to the fans over mass appeal, I admire the approach, but as a Kevin Smith fan, I just wish it had resulted in a better movie.

If the inside baseball feel of JASBSGCM doesn't quite hurt it in the modern age, the homophobia certainly does. Though apparently produced largely by Jason Mewes, the screenplay (such as it is) is credited to Smith based on an aborted comic book script for a Bluntman and Chronic origin story. I'm not sure when it was written, but I have to imagine it was at least a decade ago, before the recent explosion of positive attitudes towards the Gay Rights movement. Obviously, there was time and reason to do a few updated re-writes, and in fact there seems to have been a few of them, at least in a series of cut aways in which Smith himself becomes a character to basically apologize for the unnecessary crassness of the film, but the attempt to mitigate the ickiness of it all is not quite enough. If anything does help, it is in the inexplicable innocence of Mewe's personality which even shows through in animated form. As awful as the things coming out of his mouth are, there's still a weird sort of sweetness to it, like a little kid who just discovered his first dirty joke and repeats it ad nauseum without regard for how annoying he is. That he still manages this while pushing 40 is pretty amazing actually.

The biggest problem with the movie isn't even the gay jokes, but the laziness of the entire enterprise, of which stereotypical humor is only a symptom. Throughout the movie there are enough glimmers of potential for something so much better, that seeing it fail to achieve anything feels almost insulting. The movie begins with a series of near miss secret origins wherein Jay and Bob almost get superpowers like Green Lantern, Spiderman, Daredevil, and Captain America, ignorantly bypassing each situation until randomly acquiring enough wealth via lottery tickets to pull a Batman. Its a concept that actually works, or could have if a little more time were spent on making it funny, and the same goes for a similar run later when the villains are introduced, showcasing their nearly identical origins all resembling The Joker's acid bath. This team is called The League of Shitters by the way, though this isn't explained and thankfully doesn't correspond to anything they do (i.e. no one shits on anything). It's only there as a failed pun because shitter is a dirty word that sounds like shadow. That's the sort of laziness I'm talking about, and it pervades the movie to its detriment, as possibly amusing material is brought down by intentionally juvenile nonsense that comes off as obligatory.

This movie could have been a cogent parody of the current Superhero Movie zeitgeist, and at points seems to be trying for that, but at every turn it gets bogged down by stale humor once lovingly dismissed by the writer himself as "dick and fart jokes." That everyone involved with this production including its intended audience has long since moved on from this kind of thing makes the effort come off as more craven than nostalgic. I kept finding myself reminded of the recent straight to VOD Cheech and Chong cartoon, and while this was easily much better and at least slightly more relevant by a few decades, overall its just sad that they're still going back to this well. About every tenth joke works, and half of those only work if your enough of a Smodcast fan to know the genius of people like Walt Flannigan and Bryan Johnson. In the end, Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie is neither super nor groovy, and only a movie in the strictest technical sense. It is a cartoon featuring the titular characters, but the quality of the flash animation is only passable once you know how meager the budget was, and even with that qualification, these characters probably still deserve better. Or maybe what they deserve is a graceful retirement.

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