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How many movies have all this going for it? The hot acting and writing team of real life bud's Ben Affleck (PHANTOMS, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, DARDEVIL) and Matt Damon (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) . The most popular comic of the moment in the U.S., Chris Rock. Add Indie cult favorites Linda Fiorentino and Jason Lee (ENEMY OF THE STATE). Now throw in the radiant Salma Hayek (FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE FACULTY).
Are we hip enough yet?
How about we add: former straight-laced-comic-turned-hippie-comic-turned-ranting-old-curmudgeon-comic, George Carlin. Squeezing in besotted world weary British elegance to the cast we have Alan Rickman.
Now we are being cartoonishly hip, don't you think?
Well, as long as we're doing this, let's go ahead and add a few cameo appearances by Janeane Garafalo and Alanis Morrisette.
But wait! This movie also stars underground cult faves Jay Mews (who nearly always plays a guy named Jay) and Kevin Smith (who nearly always plays a guy named Silent Bob).
At this point it would appear that we just got too cutesy clever for our own good. It would appear that way if it wasn't for the fact that the Director for DOGMA is also the same Kevin Smith (Silent Bob) as the writer and actor. He and most of this group have become something of a loose knit acting troupe. If the cast seems just too damn hip for its own good, it is only because the entire cast has worked hard, together and apart, just to get this far. They have earned their meager place in our celebrity consciousness. DOGMA then, is a bunch of friends all getting together and, once again, putting on a show.
The movie starts out pretty snappy when we meet George Carlin as Cardinal Glick; a man who wants to help change the doom and gloom atmosphere of Catholicism into a more upbeat, warm and fuzzy kind of place. Away then with the old statues of Christ frozen in ceramic torment upon the cross. Now he's "Buddy Jesus" and has a big toothy smile and one thumb up to show that he's your friend and YOU are okay with him! Glick wants to bring 'em back to the fold with his new marketing strategy "Catholicism WOW!" The new look will kick off the 100 year anniversary of an old church and this is good news for the angel Bartleby (Ben Affleck), and Loki (Matt Damon). These two guys are fallen angels who are sorely homesick for Heaven. Thanks to a secretly sent newspaper clipping and some hilariously skewed views of the Catholic Bible, the two bickering bachelors (bachelors forever, angels have no genitalia) have found a loophole for returning to Heaven, whether God likes it or not.
Of course, exploiting such a loophole would make a fool of God; it would show that he is fallible. If you show God as being fallible then you destroy all creation. How? It just DOES that's all. This is satire! Don't ask for logic!
To keep the Apocalypse from happening, a Seraphim named Metatron (Alan Rickman) is sent down as a very chatty flame to the home of Abortion Clinic Doctor Bethany (Linda Fiorintino). The moment is hilarious as Metatron explains, first in her bedroom and then in a wink, a Mexican Restaurant, how he is the voice of God. If God spoke directly to you your head would blow apart and that's why he has come to Bethany in God's stead. She must stop the fallen angels Bartleby and Loki from from passing through the sin absolving doors of a Century old Catholic church (isn't the absolving of sin a bit more complex than that? Not anymore! Not with the new "Catholicism WOW!"). Many great touches are added to Rickman's character as he explains the plot. He snaps his fingers and they are in a Mexican restaurant, he drinks, then spits out a glass of Tequila, then drinks and spits it out again. Angels can't hold their booze you see. The theological humor is sharp and hysterical.
To help Bethany with her quest to stop the fallen angels, a pair of unwitting Prophets are sent her way. They know nothing about their higher destiny and are really just looking to get laid. They are the team of Jay and Silent Bob, whom you may have seen in more than a few indie comedies. Jay is the tommy-gun talking foulmouth, won't shut-up know it all. His "heterosexual lifemate" is the almost always silent Silent Bob, who communicates via facial expressions. The two are a hilarious comedy team together. They could never carry a movie, but they certainly add to this one.
As it later turns out, the prophets won't be enough and another man is sent to help Bethany, only this man is already dead. He is the 13th Apostle, Rufus (the 13th Apostle? "The WHITE man wrote me out of the Bible!" --he did? When was this? -feo) At a burger joint, Rufus goes into further detail in fleshing out the plot, and though we are getting a bit weary of all the exposition by now, Chris Rock's sing song delivery is bombastic good fun. Between Chris Rock's facial ticks during delivery, and Silent Bob's (at turns) intrigued, then surprised expressions, it soon turns into a Dueling Banjos of eye rolling.
Meanwhile Loki, Former Angel of Death, wants to go on one last Holy Cleansing before returning to Heaven. Their target is the Mooby chain of fast food burgers which have branched into toys and Saturday Morning cartoon shows. Mooby, you see, has a mascot which is a cow, and sometimes that cow is represented in Gold (!). No sense giving away anymore except to say that, for the first half, the movie is quite fun, right up until the train scene.
At this part, the fun takes a serious dive and never again returns to its hip, sharp wit. With decreasing humor and increasing exposition, DOGMA starts sagging under the weight of its own storyline. The playful jabs and outright humorous blasphemy start trudging into a ponderous slag of Catholic slamming. It was okay when the slagging had biting commentary with dead-on wit, but after a while the wit is gone and the film becomes bloated with diatribe. DOGMA goes from skewering the preachy to becoming the preachy. In its zest to zap the Catholic and only Catholic religion, (Actor, Writer, and Director Kevin Smith was born into, and raised, a Catholic. The man is just writing about what he knows) it misfires several times. Such as one scene where Janeane Garafolo is walking to a Family Planning Clinic and a group of Catholics waving signs are foully and verbally abusing her. She points away from them and says, "Oh look! The Pope!" the flock turn like sheep. Perhaps in some places like Wisconsin (where the scene takes place) Catholics gather at abortion clinics and chant and rave like their Protestant counterparts: I've just never seen them get any press over it.
While DOGMA has some excellent bits, it also gets tiresome with the constant close-ups of eye rolling (a sure sign of floundering humor in stale comedies ranging from Stroker Ace to Baron Von Munchausen). Everybody in the movie does it again and again and again and it gets old real quick.
Another problem with this movie is the never ending
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
This is not to say that some white characters don't also die, they do. The UNFAIR
RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT is to let you know that, no matter how many victims or how many people from different races are in the movie, the whites and ONLY the whites were cast as the survivors. Or in this
case, even have lives that matter.
I went to DOGMA expecting to see a biting satire on organized religion in general, Christianity in particular, and maybe enough intelligent wit to generate some very intriguing theological dialogue. DOGMA wins where it concerns itself with the interaction between Affleck's Bartleby and Damon's Loki, the prophets Jay and Silent Bob (characters that have been honed through several independent movies), and Jason Lee's character of Azrael. The five actors have made movies together before and they share with each other some of the best lines in DOGMA. Despite some terrific bloody slaughters and head explosions, the movie passes out long before the ending. As you sit in the theater, hoping that it will make a comeback in the last quarter, you get instead a finale so syrupy that I fully expected a last minute cameo appearance by the Olsen twins.
Despite its Demons, Angels of Death, blood, gore, and head explosions, DOGMA is a gasbag. It could have been so much more, but gets dragged down by its own smug disingenuous liberalism. If you want to see Christianity get theologically skewered on its own contradictions, watch Monty Python's LIFE OF BRIAN. If you want an uproarious apocalyptic Horror comedy, see GHOSTBUSTERS.
DOGMA goes klunk.
For having a great beginning, I give DOGMA two Shriek Girls.
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