The artwork and opening sequence for "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" playfully allude to "Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back," but they also tell you a lot about how Kevin Smith sees his films. It's one big interconnected saga, as far as he's concerned, with characters coming into and out of the picture and nearly enough self-referential humor to rival Mel Brooks' own "Star Wars" spoof, "Spaceballs."
The "Star Wars" analogy is also an appropriate metaphor for Smith, who seems conflicted about whether he should be pursuing clever satire or giving in to the dark side of comedy. You can even hear the conflict in his voice on the commentary track, as he emphasizes what a mistake he now thinks it was to go for the cheap fart joke when a cop tries to bust Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) as they stand in front of their old convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey, where audiences first saw them in "Clerks." Complicating things is that Mewes, his partner in comedy crime, seems happy to have dropped his drawers and proud that "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" is probably, at 20 million dollars, "the most expensive dick and fart joke movie ever made."
When Smith uses all the positive energy of the comedy Force, he can turn out some pretty amazing films. "Chasing Amy," one of his best, was an understated gem that satirized the comic book industry and those who get caught up in serious comics collecting, while it also bent the romantic comedy formula like a tongue-tied Gumby. If Smith had been around to direct closeted gay actor Rock Hudson in his romantic comedies with Doris Day, who knows what weird sparks (and jokes) might have flown? "Dogma" (1999), another winner in which Jay and Silent Bob appear, hit contemporary Catholicism where it hurts . . . in the truth department. Though some of the characters got a bit too long-winded in their teleological monologues, it was still another satire that hit the mark. Given the premise of "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"—that two pot-dealing slackers discover that a comic book based on their characters and lives, "Bluntman and Chronic," is being made into a big budget movie and they decide to go to Hollywood to get their fair share—I frankly expected that this film would also find the bulls-eye. But Smith doesn't nail Hollywood to the wall with as much flair and inventiveness as you'd expect. Maybe that's because the guys don't even get to Hollywood until the last 20 minutes of the film. Or maybe it means that this saga thing is getting a bit too co-dependent.
Smith says on the commentary that this "may be the biggest cult movie ever made, because you have to have seen four other movies to really enjoy the picture." He adds, "I know we spent most of the time promoting the movie saying, 'You don't have to see any of the other movies to enjoy this. You can walk in and enjoy this movie.' No, that's bullshit. You really have to have seen four other movies to kind of get off on this." Well, maybe. But that sounds an awful lot like the most common excuse for a gag that falls flat: "I guess you had to be there." At the time I watched and thoroughly enjoyed "Chasing Amy," I hadn't seen the first two films in which Jay and Silent Bob appear as minor characters—"Clerks" (1994) or "Mallrats" (1995)—so what does that tell you?
"Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" doesn't fall flat, but it's certainly uneven. There are very funny scenes that poke fun at net-nerds, hitchhikers, and guys who obsess over things like Morris Day and the Time. There are also some great satirical moments once the pair gets to Hollywood and find Jason Van Der Beer and Jason Biggs playing their characters, and run into comic-book friends (Ben Affleck and Jason Lee), who used their lives to make a buck, also playing themselves on the set of "Good Will Hunting." Chris Rock is also fun to watch as the director of the "Bluntman and Chronic" movie, while Will Ferrell makes you laugh out loud again as he plays a Federal Wildlife marshal who gets involved with the boys after they get involved with fake animal rights activists. There are even some funny bits along the way, as when George Carlin gives the guys a lesson in hitchhiking and it backfires when Jay tries it out on a nun (Carrie Fisher) who picks them up. In fact, it's one of the few examples of ribald humor that really hit the mark. When there's an idea behind the joke—when Smith is into one of his many allusions to previous films (including his own), or when he goes for a gag that requires audiences to have some knowledge of a particular culture or character type—the humor seems to work best. It's when he lapses into raunchy comedy that you for the most part wonder, why?
Though Jay and Silent Bob respond to internet bloggers who complain that they're just "minor characters" who don't deserve their own movie (in a scene, by the way, that's one of the film's funniest), you have to appreciate Smith's cocky, post-modern self-consciousness of process. In truth, these guys can carry a feature film—with more consistent writing, that is. The opening scene, where we see how these guys became lamppost-like fixtures outside the convenience store and the segue to present time is hilarious, as are some of the conversations they have. Jay's interpretation of male-female relationships, for example, leaves something to be desired, but provides a number of the big laughs: "She didn't tell me to fuck off once when I was talking to her, or try to pull out the pepper spray. Yep. This could be the one."
But Smith's attempts to give the boys a convoluted and episodic plot-line (even the Scooby-Doo crowd make an appearance) that can take them to Hollywood seem like detours that pull the film away from its comedy core. Is it a satire, or a raunchy comedy with gorgeous females (Shannon Elizabeth, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Ali Larter, Eliza Dushku)? There are times when this film feels like any other slap-it-together raunchy comedy that promises a little skin but seldom delivers. That said, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" still has plenty of humor and an engaging-enough story to make it entertaining. It's not one of Smith's best films, but it's no "Mallrats" either.
Video: So far, I've understood why Disney/Buena Vista has released the titles they have in this first Blu-ray wave. "Dinosaur" was a visual marvel, and "Eight Below" offered breathtaking scenery, with both source masters strong enough to where it made the move to Blu-ray a no-brainer. But "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"? The film really doesn't have what you'd call a strong visual style, and there are scenes where you see the very slightest bit of grain in daytime sky shots. There's also a hiccup on the closing credit song, "Jungle Love"—something we saw in the early releases from Sony. Overall, though, the picture is pretty sharp, with more detail, certainly, than you'd get in a standard disc.
Audio: Whether it's 16- or 24-bits, the 6-channel uncompressed sound on the first wave of discs is really rich and powerful. On this particular film there isn't as much rear-speaker action, and not as much movement of sounds across the speakers except during some of the action sequences. But the English 5.1 PCM (uncompressed) 48 kHz, 16-bit sound is pretty awesome. If you want to know how awesome, just select the standard English or French Dolby Digital 5.1 and you'll see how flat it sounds by comparison.
Extras: The only extra is an audio commentary by Smith, his producer-editor Scott Mosier, and Mewes. Comments range from the interesting to the bland, and from thought-provoking to inane. Toward the end, some viewers might find it funny (and a telltale sign of what it's like to film a movie in Hollywood) when Mewes talks about swapping spit with Elizabeth and the guys get to talking about all the hot women who were on the set. Smith is married, but Mewes is unattached, and he complains, "I didn't get any ass." Some of the funniest moments in the commentary come when we realize that Mewes seems an awful lot like the character he plays. The number of people he pissed off seem to run in double-digits, with Carrie Fisher at the top of the list.
In the more mundane segments, the three of them point out actors in scenes and talk a little bit about them. We learn that they edited out 15-20 minutes of mostly non-Jay and Bob stuff, and get their own assessment of the film: "characters whose central pre-occupation is weed and dick and fart jokes," with "what little plot there is predicated upon something that happened two movies ago."
As commentaries go, this one is all over the map. It ranges from below-average to above-average, depending upon the moment.
I don't consider it much of a bonus feature, but it's worth talking about the pop-up menus that the new Blu-ray discs include. At any point during the film you can press "pop-up menu" and a display comes up on the screen so you can make your decisions while still watching the movie. The graphics on the pop-up menu are generally pretty jazzy, as are the regular menus, which also have little sound-effects when you move arrows or click on something. It's all part of the new Blu-ray style, from that cool blue case to little details like this.
Bottom Line: Fans of Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and their Jay and Silent Bob characters are going to like this one more than the average filmgoer.