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DOGMA

by: Michael Dequina

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

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