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If you want to watch a fun movie, you could do a lot worse than Dogma. It has extant but not excessive doses of violence and slapstick. It has comedy thanks to Chris Rock and Jay and Silent Bob. It has a sexy girl--Salma Hayek. And it has small parts by cool people like George Carlin. Something about the way the film is put together is genuinely likeable: it isn't taxing in any way. Like a lot of Kevin Smith's work, it's like being told a funny anecdote by a friend. There's something basically approachable and welcoming to the film. I guess that's why I'm giving it 9 1/2 stars. Having excused my high expectations before the film began (I was fully expecting to dislike the film, in fact) it proved to be not so bad. I even laughed once or twice, mainly at Jay and Silent Bob.
Where Dogma bogs down is where characters talk about religion, so it's a good thing it only happens in seven or eight scenes. Well, it happens a lot more than that, but most of the time, the discussion is purely ironic or satirical. Smith obviously has some ideas about organized religion and spirituality, if not a lot of informed perspective or knowledge, and he has some funny thoughts based on these subjects. The Catholic Church's attempts to revive its image and the new "Buddy Christ" figure that open the film, for examples, are relatively effective satires. But the thread isn't followed at all.
Instead, we are given a fantastical story line that is something more like a cobbler than a fruit tart. In other words, ingredients are tossed together and baked. There's not the finesse or arrangement of parts necessary in a fruit tart. Fine: I like cobbler well enough. I just wish I had some ice cream with it. But I digress.
Basically, two fallen angels, Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) are doomed to eternity on earth. Note that while angels are quintessentially Christian, Loki was a god of Norse mythology, a god of chaos, strife and fire, and never an angel in any pantheon. Here, Loki is the angel of death. Go figure. The Judeo-Christian God cast these two out for going against her divine will. The conception of Yahweh as female belongs to new-age Judeo-Christianity, but Yahweh is decidedly old school--and male, one god of an ancient pagan pantheon that included Lilith and Astarte, female counterparts to God-dom. But I digress once again.
In Dogma, the Catholic Church's rehash has opened a loophole in divine law that would allow the two fallen angels to execute three strategic steps: assume mortal form, repent all sin, and reenter heaven. It sounds like a good plan, and the end to their suffering (and mischief) on earth. There's an all-mighty but, however, in that reentering heaven would prove the divine will to be fallible, and this would bring all existence to a definitive end. The theory, though not based on any religious teaching I know of, is accepted as the one absolute truth in the world of this film.
On the side of good is Linda Fiorentino, a Catholic whose faith is tattered and wavering. Her acting is good because it, too, is tattered and wavering. Linda is visited by an angel (What the hell is that actor's name?) and charged with the task of keeping the fallen angels from entering heaven. She receives allies in the forms of Jay and Silent Bob, two mortal prophets, who are really just a couple of accidentally helpful neerdowells. She also gets assistance from Chris Rock as Rufus, the 13th apostle. His entry into the movie matches the trump suit of deus ex machina. He simply falls out of the sky, gets up, and joins the happy crew.
Finally, a muse, played by hottie Hayek joins the group. Muses were demigods of the Greek pantheon, incidentally and had nothing to do with Judeo-Christian theology. With all of this religious hodge-podge going on, it's no wonder that there's a strong anti-organized-religion message. Smith clearly has no organization to his own religion.
Now, I don't mind uninformed rants if they are well argued, but many of the arguments in this film are based on the completely made-up premises of the film itself. Basing a logical argument on imaginary ideas doesn't make for a convincing message, unless you can sufficiently distract you audience with a barrage of humor, action, sentimentality, and faux-headiness.
In the end, the right things happen, and Smith at last comes around to embrace at least the more fun parts of the Christian tradition. I have to acknowledge Smith for trying to tackle larger issues in a comedy, but considering how little religion matters in the equation, compared to sex, action and jokes, it is strange to me how anyone could perceive this film as iconoclastic or deep, let alone blasphemous. It's basically a lark.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.