An overdose of self-indulgence mars ‘Silent Bob’ and ‘Made’
A couple of goof-balls go on an R-rated adventure and screw nearly everything up along the way. Their faces and their shtick are familiar, and the fact that they’re recycling stuff they’ve already done in another movie is supposed to be part of the fun. And besides, it’s a buddy-buddy comedy with a hip-hop accent here and there.
That’s a description of Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, whose title characters turned up in a couple of previous Smith films, but it also applies to Jon Favreau’s Made, in which Favreau and Vince Vaughn work some variations on the knuckleheads they played in Swingers, which was also written by Favreau. Both films make a show of being sensitive about their insensitive characters, and both run their respective brands of self-indulgent humor quickly into the ground.
Made is the swankier and more polished of the two, but the self-mocking Jay and Silent Bob just might be the more ambitious one, what with Smith’s convoluted impulses toward wide-ranging satire and movie spoofs in a street theater mode. But the differences don’t matter a whole lot, because neither film is particularly well directed (both Smith and Favreau are would-be actor-directors who look to be most talented as writers).
Vaughn and Favreau play Ricky and Bobby, two wannabe tough guys who have hopes of gaining “made-man” status with the Los Angeles mobster (Peter Falk) to whom they are variously indebted. After Bobby gets violently overprotective of his stripper/lap-dancer girlfriend (Famke Janssen), Max (Falk) sends the two pals to New York with guns, money, beepers, and orders to perform an errand via a hard case named Ruiz (Sean “Puffy” Combs).
It might be a Scorsese tale, except that Bobby is a compulsive nitpicker, and Ricky is a reckless motormouth and even more thickheaded than his pal. Favreau’s script gives extended play to the two guys’ Odd Couple routines and tacks on a couple of provocative character twists that are so heavy-handed and belated that they never get to matter much.
Falk and Combs are both very sharp, with each managing to be both menacing and funny in compact, economical fashion. Favreau and Vaughn meanwhile appear to be stuck with the mutual impression that their characters are far more endearing and far less annoying than the onscreen evidence seems to warrant.
Smith, meanwhile, plays Silent Bob to Jason Mewes’ rapping Jay. The two of them are supposed to be the models for the comic book characters “Bluntman and Chronic,” but their live-action reality is comic-strip thin. That may be part of Smith’s sub-Pirandellian point, but in the process Bob and Jay have slipped from intriguing bystanders to the cinematic equivalent of bobble-head dolls—and they talk that talk!
The deliberately ramshackle form and the rambunctious parade of cameos (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Chris Rock, Jason Biggs, etc., etc.) are crucial parts of whatever fun Smith and company dredge up. But Smith’s Silent Bob isn’t silent enough, and Jason Mewes talks way too much without ever really saying anything. And while that too may be part of the point in Smith’s spoofs and counter-spoofs, there is only a paltry payoff, emotionally and intellectually, for the audience.
Apart from its celebrity cast, Jay and Silent Bob looks like a smart 10th-grader’s term project. That too may seem intentional, but the preponderance of semi-private jokes in the distinctly public frame of a nationwide release can only lead us to worry that the creator of Clerks has gone Hollywood in the most narcissistic and inbred sense of that term.