Review: “Dogma”

There’s the famous “Star Trek” curse which says every odd-numbered Trek movie sucks while the even-numbered ones kick ass. Some new formation of the curse seems to apply to Smith’s films, though this time its the opposite way with the odd-numbered films (“Clerks”, “Chasing Amy”) being cinematic classics, while the even-numbered ones (“Mallrats”, “Dogma”) are just relatively OK films.

As Smith films go there’s a surprisingly little amount of laughs, especially in the second half where the film falls strictly into “taken all too seriously fantasy” territory with one or two wisecracks from Jay being the only real gags. The trouble is all the buzz about this movie makes one tend to think this will be a flick which takes a lot of stabs at the Catholic Church when in fact its only a scratch or two (much like “Bowfinger” was to the Hollywood industry).

If anything the movie is, much like Smith himself once said in an interview, “almost sickeningly pro-faith”. A few of the jokes which leaked onto the Net sounded great on paper, but on the screen they just don’t have that zing and becomes lost amongst all the spiritual-o-babble (that’s my new word for the day).

Where the real gems of this movie are lie in the performances with Smith’s sense of ingenious casting creating a great ensemble. Affleck & Damon’s chemistry and talent really shine through here and buoy up the film’s weakest sub-plot which attempts to make fun out of mass murder and doesn’t succeed. Smith’s greatest strength is in his dialogue, so one wonders why he’s treading already covered territory that’s handled much better by Tarantino and Rodriguez.

Its fun to see Damon do such light fare, but its Affleck in particular who is memorable – especially in the last third of the film which shows he’d make a truly excellent over-the-top villain in a major Hollywood action movie. The rest of the cast is strong all across the board with Alan Rickman’s sarcastic Metetron being the highlight. Cameos from Janeane Garofalo and Alanis Morisette are amongst the best of the year.

Still, the area where this falls down is sadly the story and pacing. The idea behind it is solid, but the movie can’t help feel like a well-paced 4+ hour movie that’s undergone some savage edits (especially of gags) down to a convoluted two-hour final product. Its like watching those 30-second “Last Time On…” segments on various TV shows which sum up the previous week’s episode – it condenses the main points but lacks all the subtleties which make a full episode worth watching and confuses those new to the series.

In fact the film requires some knowledge of Catholic religion to really understand it (you’d be surprised how many people don’t know what an apostle is) and will quickly confuse those completely unfamiliar. I personally am not religious but I did study up on the subject recently whilst writing a script and thus creatures like ‘Azrael’ and ‘Watcher Angels’ are familiar but most people won’t have a clue and so upon seeing them will quickly lose track over what their intentions are.

If you’re a fan of any of the actors then its certainly worth checking out as all are at their sparkling best. Still, Smith set such a high standard with “Chasing Amy” its not really a surprise that this is a let-down. In any case even a bad Smith film is better than many filmmakers good efforts so its worth a look.