Dogma (1999)

5 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When “Dogma” was released in 1999, it was met with outrage even before it came out. Because of its subject matter—which looked like satire of religion and belief—“Dogma” caused organized protests and much controversy in many countries. It also (as I’m reading from the film’s Wikipedia page), the controversy delayed release of the film and led to at least two death threats against the film’s director/writer Kevin Smith.

Well, you know what, guys? God has a sense of humor. And that’s exactly what Kevin Smith’s disclaimer that comes before the film states, along with saying that ten minutes or so into the film might offend most people, and that the film is a work of comedic fantasy, “not to be taken seriously.” If you don’t want to see a comedic fantasy revolving around Catholic belief, then for the love of God (excuse me), don’t see it. If you can’t stand the profane language that runs throughout the movie, don’t see it. Don’t take it too seriously.

OK, so there’s basic news provided in this movie, stating that Jesus was black, there was a 13th apostle left out of the Bible, God’s a woman, She’s a skee-ball fanatic, Jesus had brothers and sisters (apparently, Mary didn’t remain a virgin), and are you still with me? I figured you’d have just stopped reading after that last piece of “news.” If you stayed, congratulations—you’re not ignorant.

Me being a born-again Christian, I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about watching this movie, but I didn’t express rage before I saw it…I had enough sense, even at the age of 16, when I first watched it. Is it offensive? Yes, I should say that right off the bat, it is offensive, though that’s mainly due to the constant use of the “F” word and sex jokes. But the movie is also strangely intriguing and, I’ll have to say, very funny. Kevin Smith has always had an ear for dialogue and uses it to mix the Bible with the modern times. The result is “Dogma,” a dialogue-heavy but weirdly entertaining movie about…(sigh) a possible loophole in God’s plans.

I’ll tread easily here to save my own soul.

The movie’s story features two fallen angels named Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon). The two were banished to Wisconsin after thousands of years ago, Loki was the angel of death until Bartleby talked him into quitting (and giving God “the finger”). Now in the present day, they come across a loophole that could allow them back into Heaven. But that’s a huge problem, as explained by the Metatron (or the Voice of God, to be more accurate). The Metatron (Alan Rickman) explains to a cynical Catholic woman named Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) that if the two angels succeed, it would prove God to be infallible. When that happens, existence could be nothingness.

Bethany, dubbed the “last scion,” is sent on a crusade to New Jersey in order to keep that from happening. Helping her are a group of misfits—the 13th apostle named Rufus (Chris Rock), ticked off about his exclusion from the written word because he’s black; “prophets” Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith’s running characters in his movies, again played Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith himself); and a muse in the form of a beautiful woman (Salma Hayek)…who has writer’s block.

The screenplay is full of ideas surrounding Catholic beliefs and it features many memorable lines, such as when Bethany asks Rufus if he knew Jesus Christ, and Rufus responds, “He owes me 12 bucks!” There are rules for angels, who can take human form and retract their own wings (oh, and they have no genitalia—Metatron states in a deadpan matter, “I’m as atomically impaired as a Ken doll”). There are many issues of religion as to how no one’s truly wrong as long as one has faith, as well as certain misreadings of the Bible that Rufus likes to point out. There’s even a scene in which Loki goes back to his original duties to try and please God—he and Bartleby go to a family-franchise studio and state the executives are idolaters but are in fact terrible human beings themselves. Instead of a fiery sword, Loki uses a gun. And there’s the constant difference to be noticed between Jay and Silent Bob. Jay’s a loudmouth who never shuts up about wanting to sleep with Bethany (or anything else, what little there is for him to talk about); Silent Bob is more sensible, but rarely utters a word.

The script is all over the map with its ideas and even provides villains for our heroes. You’d think Bartleby and Loki would be the only conflicted characters for Bethany and company to come across. No, the Devil isn’t involved in the story, but there are a group of demons—a muse-turned-demon named Azrael (Jason Lee), three rollerblading hockey punks, and a monster made entirely out of excrement—making sure that Bartleby and Loki do achieve their goal because they’d rather not exist than go back to Hell.

Strangely enough, even with everything that goes on in this story (and with the movie’s running time of 130 minutes), I was interested and wasn’t bored for a second. I listened to the movie. I realized that Smith isn’t a blasphemer—he creates a satire here, but like most great satires, they do wind up providing morals.

Smith may not be a director in respective terms, but he’s a darn good writer.

All of the actors are game for this material. Linda Fiorentino’s deadpan cynicism—her character believes God is dead in the beginning of the film—makes for an interesting heroine. Chris Rock is solid as the comic relief character—you know, aside from Jason Mewes’ obnoxious Jay character. Alan Rickman is fantastic and shows a great deal of game, particularly when he shouts lines like, “Stop a couple of angels and thus negating all existence—I hate it when people need it spelled out for them!” Ben Affleck and Matt Damon show enthusiasm, and even George Carlin, in a small role as a Catholic priest, has some nice moments.

The disclaimer followed by the story’s beginning states that within ten minutes or so, people would probably be offended. It does start out to live up to that promise—there’s a statue of the Buddy Christ (Jesus with a smile, a wink, and a thumbs-up), Loki telling a nun why he doesn’t believe in God (he claims to be an Atheist by using “The Walrus and the Carpenter” as his source), and then there’s that loophole (which, don’t worry, is resolved—I won’t say how). But the disclaimer also states not to take it seriously because it’s all for comedic fantasy, as noticed in the discussion—that also comes in the beginning—of dogmatic law and church law is defined and compared to each other. Just relax and enjoy the show.

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