For fans of writer/director Kevin Smith, his latest film Jay And Silent Bob Reboot is something of a cinematic high school class reunion. All of the old, expected friends have shown up mostly looking not too worse for wear, plus a few surprise drop-ins of people who you thought may have outgrown such a small time gathering. Old jokes are retold but more for the nostalgia value than in an attempt to provoke surprised laughter. It may be a fun time, but it is tinged by the sad feeling that maybe one’s best days might just be in their rear-view mirror.
Red Bank, New Jersey’s most famous weed dealers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) find out that the twenty-year-old film Bluntman And Chronic, which was based on comic book characters based on themselves, is getting rebooted and due to some legal shenanigans from a Hollywood lawyer (Justin Long), the pair have lost the legal rights to their own name. And much like they did the first time their comic book-namesake characters were adapted to the big screen by Hollywood, the pair decide to travel to Tinsel Town to put a stop to the production. This trip, however, is complicated by Jay’s discovery that he has a hitherto unknown daughter (Harley Quinn Smith), who forces herself and her three friends into the stoner duo’s plans.
As you can see, Smith is using this setup to comment on the current state of blockbuster cinema. (Not that Martin Scorsese would call it cinema.) So perhaps retreading jokes – like the film’s opening reprise of Clerks 2‘s joke referencing Silence Of The Lambs – and plotlines from his previous ViewAskewniverse films does make sense on a meta-textual level. But at best, these retreads draw a smile of recognition, not a belly laugh of surprise.
And that’s the real problem with Jay And Silent Bob Reboot. As the movie moves from cameo to cameo, rehashed bit to rehashed bit, there is a lack of the element of surprise needed for punchlines to land with any power. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt here, but it doesn’t help the jokes. A few cameos boarder on the extraneous. Matt Damon’s appearance is strictly for Smith to have him break the fourth wall to address a lingering question about his character from Dogma. (And to squeeze in a Bourne Identity joke along the way.)
What new set pieces Smith has devised seem woefully underwritten and understaged. A run-in with a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan comes off as tepid and cursory, especially when compared to the amount of times that the Klan is ridiculed in films from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles through Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It feels more like a placeholder for a bigger scene that Smith intended to circle back and write but never did.
If there is one thing that can characterize a Kevin Smith film, outside of the raunch comedy and the cross-polinization of characters, is the fact that at some point somewhere in the third act one character will have a long monologue that sums up the film’s themes and what Smith is trying to say. Whether it’s Jay’s “Not every chick is going to bring you lasagna” speech in Clerks or Silent Bob’s “Chasing Amy” story in the film of the same name, there is always one such scene that allows a character to become Smith speaking to the audience. Jay And Silent Bob Reboot is no different and this time we get a character – and I’m not saying who as that would be a bit of a spoiler – talk about the joys and fears of being a parent. It’s here that Smith finds the emotional core of the story, something that had been missing from the preceding antics of the film. But it may be too little too late to save the rest of the film.