Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated R; 130 Minutes

Ben Affleck: Bartleby
George Carlin: Cardinal Glick
Matt Damon: Loki
Linda Fiorentino: Bethany
Salma Hayek: Serendipity
Jason Lee: Azrael
Jason Mewes: Jay
Alan Rickman: Metatron
Chris Rock: Rufus
Bud Cort: John Doe Jersey
Alanis Morissette: God
Kevin Smith: Silent Bob

Produced by Laura Greenlee and Scott Mosier; directed and screenwritten by Kevin Smith

Review Uploaded

Written by DAVID KEYES

Those who immediately take notice of the one-star rating I have attached to my review of "Dogma" may very well confuse me with the Catholic League. Under fire from this religious group for almost a year, the latest Kevin Smith incarnation has been burned relentlessly by protesters, who denounce the film as "anti-God." Only recently, when the controversial film settled on a distributor, did the remonstrations begin to wear down. And where those protests end, mine begin: those who seem to think that the movie is trying to discredit the heavens above might have never seen the picture. Beneath a plot that pokes certain fun at certain biblical subtexts, there is a message that is quite honest and blunt about the whole prospect of following organized religion. The source doesn't agree with our life's devotion to God, but keeps the faith.

Now ignore the perception that I am part of this religious crusade with an agenda, and instead look at the star rating itself. "Dogma" is an incredibly bad movie; so pompous, tiresome, empty, childish and offensive to human intelligence, that no Kevin Smith fan could have foreseen this miscalculation even if Steve Martin and Chevy Chase were in the leading roles. The fact that it has a great, intriguing premise only stimulates my dislike--it promises great things, and never delivers the goods.

This could be, in large part, blamed on the lousy script, which is overly loaded on dialogue discussions and biblical references. Smith's challenging of centuries old religious mumbo-jumbo is an extremely gallant concept (filmmakers seldom step up to this kind of challenge for fear of backlash), but there is no backbone to all the points made--his characters talk over faith, repeat ideas, discuss biblical knowledge, and submit unique standpoints, all with overwhelming nonsensical detail. There are even a few scenes in which the characters forget their purpose on screen, and retort to arguments using slurs of profanity. This is the first film I have ever seen in which the angels cuss more than the humans around them.

At the center of the plot's crisis (a possible upset of universe existence) are two exiled angels named Loki and Bartleby, who have found a loophole in the teaching of Catholic dogma which may invite them back into the heavens above. The crisis has to be prevented by a troop of bandits, which include (among others) the reprised Kevin Smith roles of Jay and Silent Bob (played by Jason Mewes and Smith himself), Rufus the 13th apostle (Chris Rock), Serendepity the Muse (Salma Hayek), and Bethany a Catholic woman with questionable faith. Their journey, filled with a perilous selection of odd human beings (like a demon named Azrael who has henchmen wielding hockey sticks), is guided by God, who appears in the visage of Alanis Morissette. God's worry is that the ostracized angels, who were exiled to Wisconsin millennia ago, will soon reenter the gates of heaven, therefore causing an imbalance to the Universe and, ultimately, humanity itself. And while those angels could disrupt human life, the film itself is already doing so by questioning the audience's religious background (i.e., "you don't celebrate your faith; you mourn it."). At least the latter situation doesn't die under the weight of pathetic gags and quirks.

The movie is just loaded with original ideas, but none of them ever generate a solid foundation. Whereas the past Kevin Smith comedies, like the vibrant "Chasing Amy," were loaded with new ideas and concepts of intrigue, "Dogma" is a case in which the premise domineers the content--hearing about the film sets our hopes high, but seeing it proves otherwise.

There is even an urge in me to discredit the satirical tone of the film, which is so implausible that it flouts the desire to make an audience laugh. Chris Rock, a man who generates chuckles at the expense of other celebrities, is employed in the movie merely as a space-filler, attempting to add comic-relief to scenes that we suspect should be serious and striking. The script gives him the title of "the 13th Apostle," but I don't see why--he adds nothing to a movie already plagued by laughless dialogue and twists. The scenes between other characters, such as the ones involving Salma Hayek as a Muse-turned-stripper, are equally unfunny. Kevin Smith may have made people laugh intentionally with his hits like "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy," but with "Dogma," people just might laugh harder at the ineptitude of all the bad ones.

Miramax, the movie's previous distributor, supposedly backed away from the project because they feared that the Catholic League's claims of cinematic sacrilege would bury the movie at the box office. That decision is customary for any big movie studio, but Miramax has usually stood behind potential hits like this, so that notion can immediately be tossed out (only a year ago, they defended "Life Is Beautiful" from dreadful declarations at Sundance, and it went on to win the Grand Jury Prize as a result). Even though nothing has officially been said about the dismissal of the movie, maybe the studio executives were thinking the same thing I am--"Dogma" is unfunny, long and painfully dull material with dismal situations and clichéd outcomes. Put up against these flaws, Kevin Smith's brilliant and unique setup is like rubbing salt in the wound.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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