Reviews by Alan Jones

selected from Starburst #257

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Loki and Bartleby, about to get apocalyptic
Dogma
Released
America – Nov 12
Britain – Dec 26
Starburst Rating 5 out of 10

Dogma picture copyright Lion's Gate
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction

127 mins • Cert R / 18

Cast
Ben Affleck
Matt Damon
Linda Fiorentino
Salma Hayek
Jason Lee
Alan Rickman
Chris Rock
George Carlin
Jason Mewes
Kevin Smith
Janeane Garofalo


Production Producers •
Scott Mosier
Co-producer •
Laura Greenlee
Director & writer •
Kevin Smith
Music •
Howard Shore
Visual effects supervisor •
Richard ‘Dickie’ Payne
Special make-up & creature effects creator & designer •
Vincent Gustavi.
‘Put simply, Smith tries to do too much in this unholy mess charting the latest battle in the eternal war between Good and Evil'
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction

Controversy always seem to surround films that dare to deal with religion in any manner other than complete reverence. Remember all the unnecessary fuss over Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ?

Kevin Smith’s fourth feature Dogma goes further than those in terms of comedy vulgarity and reinvention of Bible lore but is nowhere near as successful as either because the Clerks director gets bogged down with his own clever ideas and mercilessly smart metaphysical contemplations in this Fantasy assault on the Roman Catholic Church.

Put simply, Smith tries to do too much in this unholy mess charting the latest battle in the eternal war between Good and Evil and the scattershot result is uneven to a distracting degree, far too long and often borderline boring as it belabours its barbed points. Yet, strangely enough, basically it’s a remarkably thought-provoking and pro-faith polemic rather than being a cynical exercise in slacker sacrilege.

So the blasphemy rumpus it has caused in certain right wing religious circles (causing Disney to virtually disown it) is hard to understand in overall context. As Smith points out in the very amusing opening disclaimer, God must have a sense of humour or what else is our earthly existence all about?

Linda Fiorentino goes from The Last Seduction to being the Last Scion in Smith’s bumpy ride through the Old and New Testaments. She plays Bethany, an abortion clinic worker, who is experiencing a crisis of faith thanks to a divorce over her inability to bear children. What she doesn’t know is that she’s the last distant relation of Jesus Christ himself and it’s her destiny to save all of existence by stopping two renegade fallen angels, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), putting into operation a plan to re-enter heaven and prove God’s fallibility.

Their Paradise Regained strategy involves passing under an arch at a New Jersey church currently involved in giving Catholicism a new trendy image thanks to Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) and his idea of overhauling the crucifix for a more hip Buddy Christ statue.

On the journey to halt the angels’ inevitable killing spree that’s a part of their deity-defying mission, Bethany gets help from two disguised prophets (Jason Mewes and director Smith), a black apostle left out of the Last Supper story because of racism (Chris Rock), a muse-turned-exotic dancer (Salma Hayek) and a good, if rather disgruntled, angel (Alan Rickman). Along the way they must also deal with the satanic Azrael (Jason Lee) and his roller-blading demonic acolytes who want Loki and Bartleby to succeed so their own Hellish reality will vanish.

The apocalyptic finale is an almighty clash of sex gags, clipped angel wings, bloody slaughter, touching redemption and the appearance of God Herself. But the lengthy lead up to this impressive special effects drenched set piece does rather test the patience despite Smith indulging in some very funny religious rhetoric and posing tough revelatory questions about the meaning of life even if he does tend to go for the more obvious targets.

Once more it’s hooray for the ever-reliable Linda Fiorentino who gives Dogma a more solid base than it deserves. You believe Bethany’s struggle with her faith and eventual salvation thanks to Fiorentino’s sincerely nuanced reading of the awkward part.

Otherwise the decidedly off-kilter casting causes its own problems. What to make of Alan Rickman’s Cockney angel by way of Frankie Howerd, for example? Or Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who really don’t seem to know what they’ve got themselves into? No such reservations over Jason Mewes though who is consistently brilliant and hilarious as the ‘Do anything for a shag’ clueless prophet Jay.

Cut by 10 minutes since its Cannes début earlier this year, Dogma is still way too long for its own good. Further trimming would have made Smith’s self-mocking argument that the Catholic religion has lost its way because of over-reliance on corrupt ceremony and outmoded ideas rather the purity of belief in fundamental ideology even more potent. But its intermittent brilliance and poignancy, plus all the eye-opening Fantasy elements, make it enough of an inspiration despite the lingering feeling of ultimate disappointment.

Read Alan Jones' reviews for
Sleepy HollowThe Astronaut’s Wife and The World is not Enough
in Starburst #257

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