What if someone made a movie that consisted nearly entirely of fan service, easter eggs, and in-jokes? Kevin Smith has been hinting in that direction for quite some time, but he finally goes the full monty with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, a new film designed for Smith die-hards and absolutely no one else. He has even taken to the road as part of a nationwide show (more on that below).
As a test, if you’ve seen 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back enough times to remember all of its plot beats and cameos, this movie is for you. If you saw that movie only one time, 18 years ago, then it probably isn’t. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is directed at the sort of people who think of Shannon Elizabeth not as “the girl from American Pie,” but rather “the girl from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” Elizabeth does indeed appear here, as does just about every other living person who’s ever been in a Kevin Smith movie.
Reboot‘s story, which isn’t so much a plot as a clothesline on which to hang meta-references, has Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) on a cross-country road trip to a Comic-Con-like event which is meant to both celebrate their Bluntman and Chronic alter-egos, and serve as a location for a scene of a Bluntman and Chronic re-boot movie directed by…Kevin Smith (who plays himself in addition to Silent Bob). Our heroes, who lost the rights to their own likenesses due to a nonsensical early courtroom scene starring Justin Long, are also trying to derail this movie.
Along the way, Jay discovers that he fathered a child (played by Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith) with Elizabeth’s character during the events of Strike Back, and must re-connect with her. Meanwhile, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot sports a nearly endless series of cameos, both by dozens of characters from past Smith films, and other actors such as Chris Hemsworth, Craig Robinson, Fred Armisen, Redman and Method Man, wrestler Chris Jericho, and numerous others.
Indeed, Smith and his longtime on-and-off-screen cohort Mewes have made a film that’s full of references not only to every one of Smith’s movies, but also to every one of Smith’s off-screen proclivities — his prolific podcasting, his weed-smoking, his heart attack, veganism and subsequent weight loss, the way he dresses, that time he got kicked off a plane, and even his vocal horniness about his wife Jennifer. There are even self-deprecating shots at Cop Out, Smith’s hired-gun studio comedy flop on which he bitterly feuded with star Bruce Willis.
Aside from some admittedly sweet grace notes about fatherhood — the film ends with the Pearl Jam song “Daughter,” which like Clerks, arrived 25 years ago — Reboot consists of all meta-humor, all the time.
Some of it, such as an extended riff about Hollywood, reboots and sequels, is so obvious that it lands with a thud — as does an entire subplot about diverse casting, even before it leads to a Klan rally. But the unquestioned highlight of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is a brief appearance by Ben Affleck as his Chasing Amy character, as his scene both addresses that movie’s somewhat iffy sexual politics, and gives Affleck some decent Batman jokes. Also appearing is Matt Damon as his Dogma character, in a cameo that looks like it was thrown together in about fifteen minutes. And it is nice to see such rarely-cast-these-days performers as Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams (though Lee delivers a speech about the MCU being cinema that pre-figured the current Martin Scorsese controversy).
However, there are some missed opportunities. For a movie full of marijuana references, little mention is made of weed and cannabis having gone legit in the last few years. There’s a great comedy to be made about the tension between traditional stoners and cannabis entrepreneurs, but Smith’s movie only briefly touches on that. And Reboot is never quite clear on whether or not Jay and Silent Bob are actually famous. The movie based on their lives is popular enough to sustain a large convention, but they’re rarely recognized around the country.
Smith’s debut film, Clerks, represented the explosive arrival of a new, unique cinematic voice. It was shocking in its audacity, its look, and its vulgarity. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot isn’t nearly as shocking, nor as funny. But it’s completely in line with what Kevin Smith wants to do in 2019: give his audience exactly what they want, which is references to what they’ve seen before.
The Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow came to Philadelphia — not far from Smith’s New Jersey hometown — for a pair of sold-out shows Thursday night at the Philadelphia Film Center. The late show was to start at 10:30, but actually got underway after 11, meaning that Smith and Mewes’ Q&A started at 1 a.m. and continued until quarter to 2. However, it didn’t appear that much of Smith’s audience minded.
While there were a fair amount of women in attendance, the audience consisted of a lot of men who look and dress an awful lot like Kevin Smith, while wearing clothes inspired by his work. I saw numerous Clerks shirts and two different hockey jerseys with the number 37 — one of them on a young man who invited Smith to his upcoming wedding. There were, however, quite a few younger people there, including some who weren’t born yet when Clerks, Mallrats, or Chasing Amy were released.
Smith was clad in his usual uniform of a pink jacket over a t-shirt, with jorts; when he showed a video of some ads for Audible, which is the sponsor of the tour, he was wearing nearly the exact same outfit in one of them. In the Q&A, Smith revealed that he had lifted both the opening and closing of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot from previously planned and scrapped versions of Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2, although he’s still planning on making those his next two projects, with Clerks 3 set entirely within the Quickstop.
Smith’s He-Man series for Netflix, he said, is currently in the animation process. He’s also interested in revisiting Clerks: The Animated Series, although he doesn’t think it’s happening at Adult Swim. And in the biggest surprise of the Q&A, Smith revealed that he reached out to Bruce Willis about appearing in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, although the reaction to the overture was strongly negative.
Whatever one can say about Kevin Smith, the man has a devoted fandom, and with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, it’s clearer than ever that he’s aiming his work at them — and only at them.
The Reboot Road Show continues through February; see dates here.