by Ryan Arthur
For months, William Donohue and his Catholic League blasted Dogma and everyone involved with it, on the grounds that the filmís content was blasphemous. Upon its release, Dogma grossed
just under $30 million (to date, anyway) and garnered critical praise from nearly every reviewer who sat through it. When it was all said and done, Dogma was a critical success and probably a minor financial one, and people said it was director Kevin Smithís best work yet.Which makes me wonder why I didnít like it all that well.
"Raining down sulfur takes a huge level of endurance."
Smith has fashioned, in his own words, a sort of ďlove letter to God.Ē Dogma is not about slamming the church or slamming religion. Itís hard to take a film with even such serious subject matter as oneís faith all that seriously when one antagonist in the movie is, in fact, a giant poop monster.
Dogma tells the tale of Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a lapsed Catholic whoís working in an abortion clinic and questioning faith in general. Bethany is chosen by the Metatron (Alan Rickman), essentially Godís mouthpiece, to stop two renegade angels named Bartleby and Loki (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the Oscar Twins, respectively). Bethany is charged with the task of keeping the two angels from entering a church in New Jersey. Doing so gives them a ďplenary indlugenceĒ (I think I spelled that correctly), meaning that theíll be in a state of grace, punishment for sin is removed, and you can enter directly into heaven. But if these two angels actually do it, then that will
prove God fallible, thus negating all existence in the process. This is a bad thing. Bethanyís helped in her crusade by two ďprophets,Ē Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith), and they in turn meet up with Rufus (Chris Rock), the 13th apostle who claims he was left out of the New Testament because heís black, and Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a muse whoís spending her time on earth as a stripper.
So right off hand we have a film thatís much larger in scope than any of Smithís previous work. We have a larger cast with more of an acting pedigree, a deeper subject matter, a bigger budget, and a bunch of close-minded people banging down the door. Right? Something so epic has got to be bad for you, right?
Dogma tackles a what can be (and what has been), a dicey subject in religion with a skewed view, which is probably the source of all the negative publicity. The faith itself is taken seriously, while the figurehead, the church, is ripe for jokes. We see the commercialization of religion in Mooby the Golden Calf (!), we see the emergence of the ďbuddy ChristĒ (a Christ not on the cross, but rather standing, winking, with a huge
smile and a thumbís up hand signal) and enough tie-in products to make Disney blush. Itís not, however, a movie about the Catholic church. Itís a movie about faith.
Maybe thatís why I kept waiting for the jokes to really heat up, why I kept waiting for the film to really start throwing the hardballs. And thatís why I was so disappointed when it didnít. Itís not the controversy I wanted; it was being prompted to think: I was looking for Dogma to stimulate me into checking my own faith, into examining my own beliefs.
Instead I got three kids on rollerblades, Jason Lee in a seersucker suit and a frigging rubber poop monster. Itís not Kevin Smithís job to stimulate me into finding faith, and Iím fine with that, but a RUBBER POOP MONSTER?!
Dogma has what Kevin Smith fans have come to expect. Smart dialogue, references to other characters from his previous films, pop culture, dick and fart jokes. But heís also thrown in a ton of things that reflect his Catholic upbringing, and the film gets a whole lot weightier. This is fine, because Smithís good at giving his characters lengthy conversations about religion (and sex and whatever else) and itís the meat of the plot. But it also slows everything down. A lot. Dogma lumbers, because thereís so much talking and not enough doing. It reads better than it plays out, and the film suffers because of that.
Thereís also the distinct Smith visual style, or at least lack thereof. Dogmaís a bigger, more important production than Smithís previous work, so youíd think the look of the film would be improved. It is, but thereís still room for growth. Itís not as crisp as it should be. The effects have a very Evil Dead quality to them, but the budget was rather small ($10 million), and itís not about the effect, itís about the words. It is a Kevin Smith movie, after all.
Among the cast, Affleck fares the best. Itís a good, meaty role for him, and he pulls it off nicely. Damon does fine in a role originally written for Jason Lee (who steals the show and chews scenery whenever he gets the chance), and Mewes surprised me. He carried the stoner thing off quite well among heavy hitters like Rickman (whom we see too little of) and Fiorentino. Speaking of Fiorentino, sheís the one who seems miscast. The original role of Bethany called for a younger, bimbo type. Fiorentino brings an edge, an attitude, but at the same time seems detached from the role and the film as a whole. Much as I like her in The Last Seduction and even Men In Black, she doesnít quite fit in.
Donít get me started on Alanis doing headstands in an S-Mart prom dress, either.Fans of Smithís previous work will probably like it, but if youíre searching your soul, itís probably not for you. Itís well written, and funny in parts, but long and tedious at times.
I anticipate his next effort, whatever it may be, to be more to my tastes. Dogma raises a lot of interesting (but not all that serious) questions. You may start to examine your faith, but youíll be distracted when wondering why a poop monster is offed by such an obvious joke.
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originally posted: 01/16/00 09:11:43