Worth A Look: 26.88%
Pretty Bad: 10.48%
Total Crap: 8.66%
21 reviews, 313 user ratings
by Ryan Arthur
For months, William Donohue and his Catholic League blasted Dogma and everyone involved with it, on the grounds that the film’s 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 Smith’s best work yet.Which makes me wonder why I didn’t like it all that well.
"Raining down sulfur takes a huge level of endurance."
Smith has fashioned, in his own words, a sort of “love letter to God.” Dogma is not about slamming the church or slamming religion. It’s hard to take a film with even such serious subject matter as one’s 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 who’s working in an abortion clinic and questioning faith in general. Bethany is chosen by the Metatron (Alan Rickman), essentially God’s 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 “plenary indlugence” (I think I spelled that correctly), meaning that the’ll 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. Bethany’s helped in her crusade by two “prophets,” 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 he’s black, and Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a muse who’s spending her time on earth as a stripper.
So right off hand we have a film that’s much larger in scope than any of Smith’s 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 “buddy Christ” (a Christ not on the cross, but rather standing, winking, with a huge
smile and a thumb’s up hand signal) and enough tie-in products to make Disney blush. It’s not, however, a movie about the Catholic church. It’s a movie about faith.
Maybe that’s 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 that’s why I was so disappointed when it didn’t. It’s 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. It’s not Kevin Smith’s job to stimulate me into finding faith, and I’m 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 he’s also thrown in a ton of things that reflect his Catholic upbringing, and the film gets a whole lot weightier. This is fine, because Smith’s good at giving his characters lengthy conversations about religion (and sex and whatever else) and it’s the meat of the plot. But it also slows everything down. A lot. Dogma lumbers, because there’s so much talking and not enough doing. It reads better than it plays out, and the film suffers because of that.
There’s also the distinct Smith visual style, or at least lack thereof. Dogma’s a bigger, more important production than Smith’s previous work, so you’d think the look of the film would be improved. It is, but there’s still room for growth. It’s 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 it’s not about the effect, it’s about the words. It is a Kevin Smith movie, after all.
Among the cast, Affleck fares the best. It’s 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, she’s 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 doesn’t quite fit in.
Don’t get me started on Alanis doing headstands in an S-Mart prom dress, either.Fans of Smith’s previous work will probably like it, but if you’re searching your soul, it’s probably not for you. It’s 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 you’ll 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
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