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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dogma

Starring: Ben Affleck, Chris Rock
Director: Kevin Smith
Rated: R
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genres: Comedy, Religion

*Also starring: George Carlin, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Alan Rickman, Janeane Garofalo, Alanis Morissette, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith

Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

Much has been said about _Dogma_, much of that being negative. For all the talk I had heard about the allegedly inflammatory content of the religious-themed comedy prior to seeing it, what shocked me the most were those general accusations that writer-director Kevin Smith had committed a cinematic act of sacrilege. If you ask me, there is perhaps no other filmmaker working today who is more serious about his or her faith than Smith. After all, is there any other filmmaker who has thanked God in the closing credits of every single one of his films?

That said, after watching _Dogma_, I can see why people (namely the Catholic League) have raised some objections. After all, outrageous elements such as dialogue passages criticizing the Bible's "bad storytelling" and a thread where a cardinal starts a ridiculous "Catholicism Wow" promotional campaign are bound to raise eyebrows--even moreso when taken out of context, which is what the film's vocal detractors have done (and how could they not, given the fact that they haven't seen a frame of the film?). And context is everything when it comes to _Dogma_.

_Dogma_ is being billed as "a comic fantasia," and that description should be taken to its core: it's a comedy; it's a fantasy. As in it's supposed to be taken lightly. And not in a realistic fashion. As a hilarious typed pre-film disclaimer notes, this becomes clear within the film's first ten minutes. Smith's wacky plot revolves around the dastardly scheme of two fallen angels, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck). They discover a loophole in church dogma that will allow them to end their eternal exile in Wisconsin and reenter the pearly gates of Heaven. The added consequence, however, is that their success would spell the end of all existence. With God having been put out of commission while on a holiday, the fate of the world and all else rests with efforts of a ragtag bunch: Metatron (Alan Rickman), the angel who serves as the voice of God; Rufus (Chris Rock), the bitter, heretofore unknown 13th Apostle; heavenly Muse-turned-stripper Serendipity (Salma Hayek); a pair of familiar Prophets by the name Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith, reprising their recurring roles); and the reluctant key figure in thwarting the renegade duo, Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), an abortion clinic worker who, after a series of rough life experiences, has lost her faith.

The last sentence points up _Dogma_'s central flaw: overpopulation. In addition to the aforementioned, also encountered along the way is a demon named Azrael (Jason Lee) and his trio of hockey stick-wielding henchmen; Cardinal Glick (George Carlin), who institutes the "Catholicism Wow" campaign; and cameo roles played by familiar faces such as Janeane Garofalo. Some characters could have easily been jettisoned, namely Serendipity; while it's always a pleasure to see Hayek on the silver screen, her character is pretty much just the token female celestial being (or, rather, the token celestial being with breasts, for those from above have no gender). All the extra bodies also draw valuable time away from one of the story's more primary concerns, which is Bethany's winding road to rediscovering her faith; as such, her ultimate enlightenment doesn't pack the punch that it should.

Much like there are characters that don't quite work, there are also scenes and gags in _Dogma_ that fall short. Jay and Silent Bob's big entrance is a throwback to the over-the-top and largely unfunny comic book gags in _Mallrats_, and there's one elaborate effects set piece involving a shit demon (yes, you read that right) is a complete failure. Where _Dogma_ excels, however, is in the area of verbal humor, arguably Smith's forte. The most memorable moments are all in the written and spoken word, and the film has more than its share of great dialogue: Rufus' rumination on Mary and Joseph's sex life and his angry diatribe over being left out of the Bible; Loki and Bartleby confronting a boardroom full of execs on their wide variety of sins; and the general byplay between Jay and Silent Bob, and that between the pair and Bethany.

Along its lighthearted and offbeat comic path, though, Smith does raise (and in a fairly seamless manner at that) some serious and not-so-serious questions about Catholic dogma and organized religion in general. By virtue of their definition and the fact that they're in regards to religion, these questions would understandably upset religious groups. But what those objectors fail to see that the questions raised, such as the dangerous differences between "beliefs" and "ideas," are intelligent ones that would only spring from the mind of someone who takes his or her faith seriously. Smith isn't labeling anyone or anything as being wrong, rather offering food for thought.

Aside from the uniformly strong work of the ensemble and Smith's wit and ever-improving way with the camera (check out all the added action in the background!), that's what makes _Dogma_ a cut above most other comedies: the audacity to challenge the very audience that comes in for all the penis and flatulence jokes (and no, they're not in short supply). A lot of people will walk out of _Dogma_ thinking back on its many laughs, but just as many, if not more, will come out reflecting on their own religious faith--people who, on any other given day, would probably not give the issue a single thought. And if that's not an act of piety--as opposed to one of blasphemy, with which Smith has been so unjustly charged--then I don't know what is. (opens November 12)

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