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Dogma   B-

Lions Gate Films

Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Cast: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, George Carlin, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Bud Cort, Alanis Morissette, Janeane Garofalo.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

A religious comedy by Kevin Smith? What is the world coming to? Fear not, Smith fans, because Dogma has all the explicit language, raunchy humor, and witty dialogue that we've come to expect from the director who brought us Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. There's even a hell-spawned demon made out of human excrement! And Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) have their biggest roles yet.

The story centers on two renegade angels named Bartleby and Loki (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) who have been cast out of heaven to a place worse than Hell. That's right, they've been sent to Wisconsin to spend eternity. But Bartleby and Loki want back into Heaven, so they find a loophole that will allow them to re-enter Heaven with clean souls. There's a new church opening in New Jersey, and -- according to Catholic Dogma -- their souls will be cleansed of all sins if they pass through the archway on the day it opens. Then they can go back to Heaven. One problem, though. If they do this, it proves God wrong, and the entire universe will be destroyed.

Along the way, Bartleby and Loki decide to have a little fun by killing people who have sinned. Nope, you didn't learn about these gun-toting, foul-mouthed angels in Sunday school. It's sinfully fun to watch Matt Damon's Loki go crazy and shoot everyone who has sinned at a company's board meeting, leaving one very scared, blood-drenched woman alive. "You led a good life," he tells her. Then his eyes narrow in anger: "But you didn't say 'God bless you' when I sneezed!"

Then there's the abortion clinic worker, Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), who is "chosen" to help stop the two angels from passing through the archway. She is aided by two prophets, Jay and Silent Bob (who would've thought?), who were looking for chicks outside of her abortion clinic because, Jay says, "What better place to find loose chicks?" While on their journey, a naked black guy falls out of the sky onto the street. Turns out he's Rufus (Chris Rock), the wisecracking 13th Apostle who wasn't included in the Bible because he's black. When asked if he knew Jesus, Rufus says, "Knew him? Nigga owes me 10 bucks!" Throw in Salma Hayek as a stripper/Muse with a heart of gold, Jason Lee as the evil demon Azrael, George Carlin as a Catholic priest, and Alanis Morisette as God and you've got a funny, entertaining, and even thought-provoking small-scale epic.

Last year Dogma was attacked by religious groups who said that the film makes a mockery of Catholicism. Did any of those attacking the film ever see the movie? It does poke fun at organized religion, but it's ultimately very affectionate toward the very religion some say that it's trashing. Yes, there are angels killing people, there's a (gasp!) black Apostle, God turns out to be a female (the sacrilege!), and obscenities fly from the characters' mouths at quite an impressive rate. So if that's likely to offend your religious beliefs, then don't see this movie. Simple, huh?

Although Dogma can be quite entertaining -- helped in large part by the charms of the cast -- the plot does drag in places (running a little over two hours, it's way too long). Also, if you're not well versed in Catholic mythology, some of the jokes will go right over your head. Kevin Smith's visual style is still rough around the edges, but I think he's maturing as a filmmaker. Dogma isn't great, but I liked it. It's a comedy that actually has something to say -- something rare in Adam Sandler era of mindless humor. And, according to the end credits, Jay and Silent Bob will return in Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin'. Snootchie-bootchies!

Review published 05.05.2000.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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