More than other filmmaker in recent memory, writer-director Kevin Smith is unusually receptive and accessible to his rabid (and consistently growing) fanbase. The discussion board on his official website is legendary for the amount of interaction he has with fans; and public appearances and autograph signings are far from rare occurrences, with the latter usually extending hours beyond their allotted time blocks in order to accommodate every last person in line. But even Smith has outdone himself in terms of giving back to his public with the wild comic romp Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which behind its outrageous surface is an affectionate valentine to those who have loyally followed him and his work over the years.
So for this film more than any of his others, it certainly is beneficial (though just as certainly not necessary) to walk in with some prior knowledge of Smith's "View Askew-niverse," which officially closes with Strike Back. The title characters, foulmouthed drug dealer Jay (Jason Mewes) and his laconic "hetero lifemate" Silent Bob (Smith), are the Askew-niverse's most beloved figures, having appeared in all of Smith's previous films in capacities small (Clerks, Chasing Amy) and larger (Mallrats, Dogma). Strike Back gives the pair their long-due turn on center stage, and in an added bonus for the fandom, resurfacing especially for this occasion are other popular characters from those four films. Needless to say, only those with some Smith oeuvre familiarity will fully appreciate the appearances of people such as Clerks' Dante and Randal (respectively played by Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson), who to the VA-virgin eye would seem to be just bit players.
The significance of Amy's Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee, who also turns in an appearance as the best thing about Mallrats, Brodie Bruce), however, won't be lost on any newcomers, for they nudge Jay and Silent Bob--the movie and the characters--into action. Bluntman and Chronic, the superhero comic book Holden and Banky modeled in the likeness of Jay and Bob, is about to be adapted into a film without our dynamic duo's permission, and so they set off on a cross-country trip from New Jersey to Hollywood to stop the production. Obviously, the more serious overtones of Smith's last two efforts, Amy and Dogma, are nowhere to be found in Strike Back, and don't come in looking for some innovations in plotting, either; the film is simply a road/chase comedy that wants nothing more than to make the audience laugh.
And are there ever laughs to be had in Strike Back. Indeed, Smith's famous (infamous?) predilection for dick and fart jokes is very much in evidence (though, thankfully, there's nothing here approaching the scatological nadir of Dogma's Golgothan), yet while he may have gained a fair amount of notoriety for that lowbrow brand of humor, his greatest strength has always been the rapier wit of his dialogue, whenever raunchy or not. On the receiving end of many of the film's best verbal barbs is the glitzy world of Tinseltown moviemaking. No one is shielded from the hysterical satirical onslaught: not Internet gossip sites; not Affleck, who gamely pulls double duty as Holden and himself; not the film's distributor, Miramax; not even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and the View Askew canon itself, and as such the fourth wall is not only broken, but flat out bulldozed.
Lest the film sound extremely insular with all its in-jokes and Hollywood insider humor, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back also offers a number of broader-appeal delights, particularly in the performance department. That Mewes and Smith have their act down by now is no surprise; Mewes invests his usual gusto into every last one of Jay's four-letter words and vulgar gestures, which are, as always, countered with expert reaction takes by Smith. What is surprising, though, is Shannon Elizabeth's beguiling turn as the sweet Justice, who falls for Jay as she and her more sour friends Sissy (Eliza Dushku), Chrissy (Ali Larter), and Missy (Jennifer Schwalbach, Smith's wife) spend time on the road with him and Bob. Other colorful characters pop up throughout the course of the film, the standouts being Will Ferrell's clueless Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly and Chaka (Chris Rock), a militant African-American film director; and a multitude of stars recognizable to all audiences turn up in some enjoyable cameos.
The polished and at times--brace yourselves--slick visuals of Strike Back, undoubtedly due in large part to cinematographer Jamie Anderson, will be downright shocking to Smith fans and especially to his detractors, who will find themselves with one less thing to knock him on. I'm sure they will come up with plenty of compensatory ammunition in the content of the film--or rather lack thereof. With its shameless (and not always successful) riffs on other movies, frequent references to his own previous work, and slant toward broad antics in general, even Smith has called Strike Back "a step backward" in his progression as a filmmaker. To hell with any perceived requirements for "artistic growth," I say, if stagnation and regression are done in the name of offering a good time at the movies--and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is nothing less than a rollicking blast.