By Joe Lozito
Is there a Doctrine in the house?
Writer-Director Kevin Smith keeps getting better. After the meandering and inexplicably popular "Clerks", its better-left-unmentioned sequel "Mallrats" and the cute but obvious "Chasing Amy", Mr. Smith has finally created a movie that is unique and at times both insightful and funny.
"Dogma", his treatise on the state of faith in an apathetic, self-involved world, stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as fallen angels who find a loophole in God's law which will get them back into heaven. If they succeed, however, it will prove God wrong, thereby destroying the foundation of existence.
The delicious trick to Mr. Smith's script is that everyone, including God is subject to very human failings. Though this has, for no good reason of course, stirred up the wrath of easily-stirred Christian fundamentalist groups, "Dogma" is a surprisingly reverent, and even moving, fantasy.
After the success of his previous indie films, Mr. Smith has some clout, which is obvious from the cast he has put together. Linda Fiortentino, happily her dynamic self again, is the woman chosen - against her wishes, of course - to stop the angels by any means necessary. She is aided by Chris Rock as the 13th apostle, Alan Rickman as God's right-hand man, and a nearly unintelligible Salma Hayek as a muse. Also, and most annoyingly, along for the ride are Mr. Smith's omnipresent Jay and Silent Bob characters, the latter of whom finally manages to speak, only to utter - appropriately, I suppose - an "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" reference.
Of course, Mr. Smith's unique brand of comic book dialogue is in full force as is his penchant for overloading the script with pop culture references, even if they are at times out of place and break the action. The ensemble cast breathes much-needed life into Mr. Smith's trademark paper-thin characters. However, certain cast members (particularly, Ms. Fiorentino and Mr. Rock) need to learn that Mr. Smith's dialog should not be acted. It needs to be said, and said flatly. Deadpan - as though you're ordering a sandwich. The reason Mr. Smith's films have attracted such a huge following is that he has a superhuman ear for the way people speak. However, sometimes what people say is not very interesting. Which makes "Dogma" both a blessing and a curse.