It hasn’t been the easiest of decades for filmmaker Kevin Smith. 2010’s Cop Out was met with a lukewarm response, leading Smith to retreat from Hollywood to the indie scene which birthed his career. While 2011’s Red State met with significantly more acclaim, follow-ups Tusk and Yoga Hosers were – by Smith’s own admission – rather more divisive. There’s also the small matter of the massive heart attack that almost claimed his life in 2018.
So it’s little wonder, then, that the director has chosen to end the decade firmly back in his comfort zone, returning to the ‘View Asknewniverse’ for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. The film sees the titular twosome (played as ever by Smith and lifelong friend Jason Mewes) embarking on a road trip to Hollywood in order to halt the production of a new movie featuring Bluntman and Chronic, Jay and Bob’s comic book alter-egos. If the premise seems familiar, it should; it’s the exact plot of 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a fact that is referenced repeatedly throughout the film.
To say that Jay and Silent Bob Reboot contains a lot of meta humour would be an understatement. From jokes about Smith’s veganism and weight loss to Ben Affleck’s short-lived turn as Batman, Reboot is densely packed with winks to camera – both metaphorical and literal. It’s a tactic which soon becomes exhausting, and by the time Silent Bob came face to face with Kevin Smith himself I found I was rolling my eyes far more than I was laughing.
The other tiresome well from which the film draws its comedy is stoner jokes. While a certain amount of drug humour is to be expected from these characters, Smith – who became a ‘wake and baker’ after working with Seth Rogen in 2008 – ramps the weed references up to 11 in this film, fetishising the drug to almost unhealthy levels. If you’re familiar with that world, however, then you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy, with cameos by Craig Robinson, Tommy Chong and the stars of 2001’s How High.
Where the film shines – and where it veers furthest from Strike Back – is in the introduction of Jay’s daughter Milly, played by Smith’s real-life daughter Harley Quinn Smith. The offspring of Jay and Strike Back‘s Justice (Shannon Elizabeth, who reprises the role), Milly provides the movie’s emotional core, as she unknowingly bonds with the father she never knew. The younger Smith is a natural actor, and her one-on-one scenes with Mewes are easily the best in the film, as at the age of 45 Jay is finally forced to grow up (slightly).
It’s just a shame that these scenes, and this plot thread, don’t occupy more of the running time. Like its predecessor, Reboot often seems more like a piecemeal series of vignettes than a cohesive whole. There is of course a giddy thrill in seeing nearly all of the big hitters from the previous Asknewniverse films return for cameos (sadly this was made before Smith reconciled with Clerks star Jeff Anderson), but one can’t help but wish all of these fantastic actors had been given something meatier – and, dare I say it, funnier – to work with.
I have no doubt that some people will love Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, for all of the reasons stated above, and while it’s not a film I’d recommend to newcomers to Smith’s work, it’s not a disaster either. It just feels like a waste of an opportunity. Still, with the director’s next two films set to be Clerks III and Mallrats II, we can only hope that this was just the warm-up.