If only Hollywood was filled with a hundred more Kevin Smiths.
The “Clerks” director has his haters, but he never seems to take that seriously. He’s too busy talking up other artists and inspiring new generations to use their voices to tell stories.
- He’s never political.
- He genuinely loves what he does.
- He’ll never give a half-cocked answer to anything.
His success story is the sort that makes you love America even more: a direction-less 20-something sells his comic books and maxes out his credit cards to make the cheap, but lovably dirty and relatable “Clerks.”
The black and white film, shot almost exclusively at night at the very convenience store Smith worked during the day, made it all the way to the Sundance Film Festival.
The rest is history.
Once the ‘90s wunderkid behind films like “Mallrats” and “Chasing Amy,” Smith has grown into a filmmaker who has been a specific and sizable audiences he caters to now through podcasts and live standup shows.
As a director, he’s become a go-to-pick for television shows like “The Flash” and “The Goldbergs.”
This year, though, Smith is releasing something special beyond podcasts and episodic television — he’s sharing a sequel to one of his more fan-centric films, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.”
Warning: Mature language
With “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” literally hitting the road this year — there will be a roadshow with screenings hosted by Smith and lead actor Jason Mewes — it’s a good time to look back at Smith’s career.
Though he has plenty of people who doubt his talents, the three movies below cement Smith as one of the most unique voices to ever come out of Hollywood.
To prepare for “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” coming in October, watch these films first. Each shows what a layered and essential voice Smith is in today’s divisive and mostly uninspired Hollywood.
Clerks II (2006)
Smith repeatedly says “Clerks II” is his favorite of his own films. It’s easy to see why. When seen in the context of his entire filmography, the movie feels like the essential tissue connecting the two main parts of Smith’s career — the low-budget, high-return View Askew phase and the polished, slightly more experimental middle-aged Smith phase.
While “Clerks II” revisits View Askew (the “universe” in which many of Smith’s films take place) regulars like Dante and Randal, it is far less silly than its predecessors.
There’s still plenty of off-the-wall humor that will make grandma blush, including a third act entertainment show set at the Mooby’s fast food restaurant which is the stuff of cinema legend). There’s also a maturity to the writing as Dante and Randal come face to face with their mortality, realizing their lives haven’t turned out exactly as they hoped.
These parts of the movie feel like a last gasp by the View Askewniverse, a stop on the road to a maturity that is simply inevitable for most people — and most filmmakers.
“Clerks II” remains Smith’s best film because it’s so unique in that we get the stylistic Smith from later films like “Red State” and “Tusk,” but we also get him playing with the characters of his youth, the same characters we watched through the lens of a 16mm black and white camera in “Clerks.“
Beyond the movie’s visual flare and downright hilarious — and completely politically incorrect — scenes, “Clerks II” is also a really poignant movie about aging and facing one’s self after a series of questionable decisions.
The final monologue — performed by the criminally underrated Jeff Anderson — says everything anyone who has ever strayed from the beaten path wants to say to someone they love. It’s a speech about the importance of individualism written by a guy who fought to make a career out of just being himself with his friends.
Red State (2011)
“I freakin’ love this movie,” Quentin Tarantino said about “Red State” — the quote was used to promote the film’s home release. If you don’t feel that same giddy excitement that Tarantino clearly felt by the time Michael Parks enters “Red State” then just shut it off because it’s only going to get weirder.
Though Smith earned some not-so-great headlines around the time of “Red State,” the film really is a reboot of sorts for the director. You’d be hard-pressed to guess it’s a Smith picture without knowing his name is attached first.
“Red State” is three movies packed into one, and the switches from one to the next feel like drops on a roller coaster. These extreme tonal shifts turned off some critics, but I found that they fit nicely into the bizarre vision that is “Red State.”
Above all its other qualities, the biggest success of “Red State” is giving the late, great Michael Parks more scenery to chew than ever before.
The memorable character actor from “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Kill Bill” brings a commitment to the fire-and-brimstone sermons of his deranged preacher that sucks you in. It’s more captivating than any special effect thought up by Marvel animators.
Parks shines like few actors can in both big and small moments. Even if one hates “Red State,” you have to give Smith some love for providing the sort of role to Parks that the man should have been getting his entire career.
Part horror, part comedy, “Red State” is the sort of sharp and twisted concoction few likely thought the director of “Jersey Girl” could make. The movie may have been buried under some unflattering reviews and stories about Smith shunning traditional Hollywood, but it’s a major success. It’s also Smith’s most original and daring work since his very first movie, “Clerks.”
Cop Out (2010)
Yes, “Cop Out.” I know. I know. Smith made “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma” and those are both incredibly moving and funny works. And “Clerks” rightfully launched his career. “Tusk” was so original that it’s like an inspiration machine for artists everywhere.
Smith has made plenty that people would put above “Cop Out,” a movie Smith has openly admitted he had a pretty terrible time making.
After having a scene-stealing role in 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” Smith properly teamed up with Willis for “Cop Out,” a buddy cop picture Willis was leading next to Tracy Morgan.
Smith walked onto “Cop Out” having made it through a career almost never working with someone else’s script. Though he’d worked for major studios in the past, “Cop Out” felt like Smith was testing the waters of big budget studio filmmaking for the first time by working with an established star he wasn’t best buds with and working with a budget higher than most of his other films — $30 million.
The response from critics was fairly harsh, though fans of the genre have kept the movie alive over the years.
“Cop Out” was the window through which I discovered everything that is Kevin Smith. As a teenager just getting my taste for cinema, I would frequent a local video store that was basically the basement of a building. The big appeal of the place was they had an entire room that broke down movies into the filmographies of certain directors like Quentin Tarantino and Smith.
I never got around to Smith’s movies until “Cop Out.” I was a Bruce Willis fan and a sucker for buddy cop movies, so “Cop Out” excited me. After seeing the end result, I went back and forth to the basement rental store until I’d seen every Smith flick.
Smith has said many times that he and Willis did not get along on set. He’s even been open about entering a mild depression following the experience of this movie and his “too fat to fly” controversy.
Obviously “Cop Out” could be a better movie. It’s not perfect but it doesn’t set out to be perfect. What it is is a love letter to the buddy cop genre made by a man who grew up on those films. Smith has said in interviews that he directed “Cop Out” because it was the sort of film his late father loved and would have taken a young Smith to.
“Cop Out” isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is hitting all the best aspects to the buddy cop genre. From the score by “Beverly Hills Cop” composer Harold Faltermeyer to shots that obviously homage directors such as Michael Bay, “Cop Out” really is a fan letter to the buddy cop genre much in the way that Sylvester Stallone’s “Expendables” was a fan letter to a certain time period of action movies and stars.
Everything in the film has a nice Smith twist, like the great wordplay between Willis and Morgan and other supporting players like Seann William Scott.
One of the reasons it’s an essential Smith movie too is that it really shows what a proficient director he is. Say whatever you want about the plot of “Cop Out,” but everything is directed professionally and looks about as good as anyone could have made such a B-movie look.
Despite the turmoil behind the scenes and the lukewarm reception, I still watch “Cop Out” on occasion and find myself laughing out loud and wishing Willis and Smith could have made up and knocked out a few more of these things.
Maybe Willis would have been better behaved if Smith penned the script?
My personal history may make assess “Cop Out” so fondly, but I also believe the flick has a real heart and slick style that survived the on-set chaos.