Dogma was Kevin Smith’s launch into main-stream movie making despite the controversial content. Clerks was an underground hit, Mallrats a teen comedy that was a flop and Chasing Amy a low-key romantic comedy. With Dogma, Smith had a lot of well known actors to his disposal which really helped him sell this movie to a wide audience as the belief-subject would not have done that. This was the movie that actually introduced Jay & Silent Bob to mass audiences paving the way for one of the most funniest movies ever made: Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. Sadly I can’t really say that about Dogma, as I find it to be the least funny movie of the View Askew universe.
But before we get to that, let’s first tackle the good. The casting is one thing. The dynamic duo Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play the central lead villains, Alan Rickman is the voice of God, Chris Rock the 13th apostle, Salma Hayek a stripper/muse and Linda Fiorentino is the lead protagonist. Then there’s the Kevin Smith stock characters Jay & Silent Bob as well as regular Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl). Cameos are provided by George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo and Alanis Morissette. With people all hyping up over the casts in The Expendables and Machete movies as if they invented it it’s Dogma that did it 13 years ago. (And a couple of other movies did too, I’m well aware of that)
Of all his movies up until this one this is the most epic one. Lots of settings, it’s basically a road trip, and there are even some nice special effects thrown here and there. There are quite a few moments where the movie is funny and the casting of George Carlin as a cardinal is absolute gold. The image of Buddy Christ is one that will last a long time.
Now then, the bad:
Kevin Smith, like Quentin Tarantino, is a very talented dialogue writer. He can write two characters talking about nothing for 20 minutes and it would still be fun and engaging to watch. The actors don’t even need to be that good for it to be engaging, Clerks is living proof of that. The key to the dialogue is that it is relatable to you and me. With Dogma Smith ventures off deeply into religious territory, not merely touching upon the basic well known tales and even adding some characters from other religions as well (Azrael is form the Islamic religion) as well as inventing some along the way (I’m pretty sure a “shit monster” is nowhere to be found in any holy book). Like Rickman states in one of his scenes: “Mention something out of a Charlton Heston movie and suddenly everybody is a theology scholar.”
Because of this a whole lot of dialogue is explanatory. Characters tell each other who’s who constantly throughout the movie. Every character that Bethany (Fiorentino) meets along the way introduces themselves, tells their complete backstory and why they are here and now. Most of them don’t really have a function besides that and to be honest the characters of Metatron (Rickman), Rufus (Rock) and Serendipity (Hayek) could have just as well been made into one character, one character that has all knowledge to explain the protagonists (and the audience) whereto and why they should go there. Especially Rickman’s character seems to just pop up in certain scenes, and is vanished without a trace and mention in the next.
I also find the character of Jay annoying in this movie. Granted he’s supposed to be annoying but his, and Silent Bob’s, antics were comedic gold in Mallrats, the small cameo he had in both Clerks and Chasing Amy were too small for him to become one note, but here he has one joke he constantly repeated over the course of this almost two hour movie: he wants to have sex with Bethany. Sure this is what Jay does, he’s always following the lead of his penis, but still it became annoying pretty quickly. A shame because Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back proved that he could be so much more than some guy who just asks girls for sex all the time.
Dogma has an impressive cast, but should have trimmed it a bit to get a leaner movie. I’m thinking it would have also helped if he’d made the plot more about basic religious stories/characters. It would have saved him a lot of expository dialogue. At this point I still don’t quite comprehend the whole angels without wings are humans element of the finale. Is it a good thing, or is it a bad thing? If they are human, is them entering the church still a problem? And who did cut of Matt Damon’s wings? Do they have a penis as soon as they loose their wings, since angels don’t have one? I think I have to go see a priest and ask him all this.