Movie review: Dogma



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(Courtesy of Cashill Newsletter - Jan 12, 2000)

By Jack Cashill - from KC Jones

In the much discussed bit of seeming blasphemy called Dogma, director Kevin Smith of "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" fame ends up satirizing not so much the traditional Church as the process of liberalization. Problem is, he doesn't know it.

I say "seeming" because the movie lacks the intent to be blasphemous. Smith, in fact, is a practicing Catholic himself. When he sends his avenging angels (the ubiquitous buddies, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) on a trip from Wisconsin to New Jersey in some bizarre quest to redeem themselves and reenter the heavenly kingdom, he intends to make an affirmative statement about faith. And this, alas, is the real scandal: He doesn't know how. Doesn't have a clue.

In the movie's one vaguely funny moment, a bishop played by George Carlin decides to replace the grim iconography of the crucifixion with a more contemporary icon, the swinging hipster, "Buddy Christ." Smith is on to something here, but he doesn't understand what.

Consider, for instance, his own self-avowed rationale for making this movie. "I wanted to do something different. I wanted to really celebrate my faith, make it cool, make it entertaining." This, alas, is what the Church has been doing for the last thirty years. Kevin Smith is own Bishop, the very thing he ridicules, the quintessential representative of his time and place, the naural end product of liberal Christianity, and Dogma is his witless howl of protest aginst the very process that nurtured him. Indeed, it is as if Frankenstein's monster were to make a movie satirizing bio-technology.

As in so many contemporary movies, Fight Club and the overrated American Beauty come to mind, this movie fails because its auteur cannot quite figure out what it he is rebelling against nor what it is he'd replace it with. Smith has a good rap and a soul down there somewhere. And Lord knows there are a lot of targets out there worthy of satire. Clerks and Chasing Amy took aim. Dogma was pure scattershot. Too bad.

Smith, however, does pull off one minor miracle--he manages to make even Chris Rock unfunny. Not an easy thing to do.



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