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July 20, 2016

Dogma (1999)
Director: Kevin Smith
Actors: Linda Fiorentino, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon

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Synopsis: Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) are two fallen angels looking to exploit a loophole whereby they can return to Heaven through a Catholic church in New Jersey which is allowing people free atonement of their sins. If Bartleby and Loki succeed, God will be proved fallible (hence the world will cease to exist) so Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) is summoned by God to save mankind…

Review: After the patchiness of Mallrats and Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith had a spectacular return to form with this absolutely ingenious vehicle for his talents: a near perfect religious comedy set in the most dowdy of locations – Wisconsin, Illinois and Smith’s regular haunt of New Jersey. In fact, the setting of Illinois is cause for one of the best gags of the film when Jay and Silent Bob explain to heroine Bethany how they wound up in the state through their misinformed reverence for the films of John Hughes (it’s doubly clever in that it creates exquisite bathos in the juxtaposition of the epicness of the religious struggle versus the banality of a midwestern state, but also honours Smith’s movie fanboy knowledge.)

Talking about Jay and Silent Bob, it’s easily their best and most organic appearance in a Smith film since Clerks, and in fact all the various characters (and the who’s who of actors playing them) lend the film’s ‘quest’ trajectory its momentum and variety. Probably the best imagining is of a wonderfully sarcastic Alan Rickman playing the voice of God who delivers the initial mission to Bethany. On top of his classic reaction to being doused in flames on first appearing to her, he then whisks her to a cheap Mexican restaurant down the road before delivering possibly the best line in the whole film about sex and God’s reaction to it.

Smith finds exactly the right pitch between the cogent religious referencing required to drive the narrative versus sending most of that religiosity up with irreverent satire and realising the film as a pastiche of an action movie. Arguably Smith digs himself in a touch because the religious scenario at times necessitates too much exposition, but that aside, this is his cinematic signature at its best: fresh, clever, bawdy and hilarious. (July 2016)

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