DOGMA (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language including Sex-Related Dialogue, Violence, Crude Humor and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith & George Carlin

When one thinks of Kevin Smith, the first thoughts are probably dick jokes and iconic stoner pals: Jay and Silent Bob. DOGMA has those, but it also has a lot more than I initially expected. After years of this flick being recommended by friends, I thought this was going to be Kevin Smith skewing religion with his usually dirty sense of humor. Instead, DOGMA comes off as a sort of fantasy comedy that is both funny and oddly sweet. The content might border on offensive (the image of Buddy Christ has become a meme by now), but it also has a super rare quality of being so clever and creative that it should please both skeptics and believers. DOGMA is one of Smith’s best films.

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Bethany Sloane seems like the last person God would call on to take a holy pilgrimage. Bethany goes to church purely out of habit, but has little faith in God. To be even more ironic, she works at an abortion clinic. Nevertheless, Metatron (the voice of God) informs her that she is go on a quest that all existence hinges on. Thanks to a recent loophole, two fallen angels (Loki and Bartleby) might have found a way back into heaven and it’s up to Bethany to stop them from reaching the gateway in New Jersey (of all places). Aided by the black unknown thirteenth apostle, the stripper Serendipity, and two prophets (Jay and Silent Bob), Bethany races against time to stop these two fallen angels from ruining all of existence.

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DOGMA is a crazy movie that manages to be sweet, silly, and crude all at the same time. The plot is extremely detailed, throwing in lots of mythological figures and Catholic beliefs together for a wild ride. Seeing as this is ultimately about a reluctant heroine hired by the voice of God to stop two evil angels, you might expect some violence, but DOGMA has more than its fair share of that. This film can be pretty bloody at points and Smith never once loses the sense to keep everything light-hearted.

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The film is loaded with a strong cast given colorful roles. Bethany (Linda Florentino) is a surprisingly compelling lead and one of the stronger heroines I’ve seen in a film of this type. Of course, there’s Jay and Silent Bob as main characters this time around. These are arguably the funniest moments of Jay and Silent Bob in the View Askewniverse (a fictional universe that also holds the CLERKS films and MALLRATS). Then there’s Ben Affleck and Matt Damon playing Bartleby and Loki. The pair play well off each other and that should come as no surprise given their film history at that point. These two make for some interesting villains as they aren’t necessarily all-out bad guys. They do kill people, but there are stipulations (they have to be semi-serious sinners) and there’s real motivation as to why they’d want to return to heaven (that doesn’t involve destroying the universe). Chris Rock is funny as the thirteenth apostle, Salma Hayek is a tad underused as Serendipity, and the same goes for Jason Lee as a demon. The big stand-outs (at least for me) are a sarcastic Alan Rickman as the voice of God and George Carlin in the side role as a business-driven Cardinal.

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The film does feel a little long and this is primarily due to a couple of unneeded scenes that were almost as if Kevin Smith was working backwards from the cool story he had built. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the inclusion of a poop monster. This scene served next to no purpose and supplied more than all of the potty humor the film needed. The frantic details being thrown at the viewer in the opening might be a little hard to follow, but everything connects and makes sense as the rest of the film plays out. I was surprised at how well Smith executed emotional scenes, including one stand-out moment before the final third starts. This scene didn’t feel like it even came from Smith and that’s a huge compliment, because it was absent of humor and had a touching side to it. It only served to make the rest of the film more entertaining and interesting.

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The biggest accomplishment that DOGMA pulls off is that it’s a fantastic comedy that should please both atheists and the religious (at least, those with a sense of humor) for similar reasons. It pokes fun at the mythology and beliefs of religion, but also doesn’t condemn it. This is a well-written film that ranks as one of Kevin Smith’s best works. Those afraid that DOGMA is sacrilegious should have their fears put to rest. Smith addresses that concern early on by pointing out that God clearly has a sense of humor. Just look at sex and the platypus.

Grade: A-

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