Clerks | Mallrats | Chasing Amy | Dogma
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back | Clerks II | Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
Kevin Smith is a comic-loving film fan who in the mid-1990s successfully broke into the film industry with Clerks, an independent black and white film he had written and directed. This was made on a shoestring budget with money he raised by selling off his comic collection and using credit cards. After getting a distributor and becoming a largely unprecedented surprise hit, it was followed by sequels that featured some of the same characters, all of which concentrate on his rude, but witty, wordplay. Some actors play multiple characters across the film series, often playing relatives of characters in previous films. Two characters appear in every film in the series: Jay and Silent Bob, who are drug dealers1. Jay is immature, arrogant and self-obsessed while, as his name suggests, Silent Bob is Jay's quiet partner whose facial expressions nevertheless speak volumes. On the rare occasions that Bob speaks, his advice is well-worth listening to.
The View Askewniverse
As Kevin Smith's film company, co-founded with producer Scott Mosier, is called View Askew Productions2, the film series has become known as the View Askewniverse. Other films that he has made that do not feature Jay, Silent Bob, etc, namely Jersey Girl (2004), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)3 are not considered part of the View Askewniverse. Jay and Silent Bob even featured in their own (short-lived) animated television series (2000) and cameoed in Scream 3 (2000). Although his films strongly reflect his style, Smith refuses to take the 'A film by' credit, preferring the credit 'written & directed by' as he feels that filmmaking is a collaborative process. He writes films about people who talk about comic books and Star Wars but usually have at least one deep moment in them somewhere, buried beneath everything else.
Other films by Smith's favourite directors including Steven Spielberg, John Hughes and John Landis are often referenced. Conversations generally contain explicit sex references and hundreds of swear words. Most films have met controversy over different issues. They are also all set in New Jersey, which is why they have also been called the New Jersey Chronicles. Skee-ball, an arcade ballgame created in New Jersey, also frequently appears.
The films perhaps are best summarised by the New York Times review of Clerks II:
'Clerks II' has a dirty mind, but its heart is pure.
What follows is a simple rundown of Smith's View Askewniverse films.Warning – these films contain numerous references to his favourite film Jaws, nudity, sex, drugs, rock and roll, hockey4, comics and explicit Star Wars5.
The Films and Spin Offs
The seven films of the View Askewniverse to date (2020) are summarised below, as well as the two animated spin-off projects.
1. Clerks (1994)
Dante Hicks (played by Brian O'Halloran) is called in on his day off to cover for an ill colleague at the store where he works. He finds the shutters over the windows are jammed shut with gum in the locks. This results in him smelling of shoe polish all day since using it to improvise a sign reading 'I Assure You We're Open!' A gum salesman starts the action off by rallying about a dozen smokers together to attack Dante by throwing cigarettes at him. Dante closes the store twice: firstly to play hockey on the roof and again to go to the funeral of an ex-girlfriend named Julie Dwyer, who died in a YMCA swimming pool.
In between all his cries of, 'I'm not even supposed to be here today!', Dante suffers more than one might reasonably expect6. Drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) are hanging around outside and the customers just won't stop complaining. He is dating a girl named Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) who wants him to go back to college and make more of his life than simply work in a shop, but before she dated him she was more sexually-active than he is comfortable with. He can't stop thinking about Caitlin Bree (Lisa Spoonauer), a girl he dated in high school but who kept cheating on him and who is now getting married.
Randal (played by Jeff Anderson) is his friend and associate from the video shop next door. He comes in late, closes the shop whenever he likes, and even at work spends his time reading porn mags. With friends like him, Dante doesn't need enemies.
This movie was shot in Leonardo, New Jersey at the Quick Stop convenience mart and RST Videos. At the time, Smith was working as a clerk at the Quick Stop, and was only allowed to film after the store had closed, so he had to write into his script an explanation for the steel shutters always being shut. Jay was based on Jason Mewes when he was 16. However, Mewes was very self-conscious; although he would dance spontaneously, he was unprepared to dance on demand. His dance in the film was done by leaving the camera running and having everyone except Smith leaving the area. Mewes was unable to nail one of his lines, so it was changed to be the only sentence said by Silent Bob. Smith has since said that the characters of Dante and Randal were reflections of himself, with carefree Randal how he would like to be and the more uptight Dante how he really is, mirroring Smith's own 'Clerkin'' experiences.
Don't let the sex references and the naughty language fool you: this is a fabulous film, no question. And far more successful than makes any reasonable sense.
2. Mallrats (1995)
Clerks was a huge success; Mallrats on its original release was not. It was shot in a mall in Minnesota, set in New Jersey the day before the events of Clerks, and was hated by critics. Following the success of Clerks, Smith was approached by Universal Pictures who asked him to make a teenage sex comedy in the same vein as Porky's (1981). He was instructed to have the main characters in their late teens, cut out any swearing, and include frontal female nudity. Mallrats flopped at the cinemas, but has since successfully found its audience in the home video market.
Mallrats tells the tale of Brodie Bruce (played by Jason Lee), who is Randal's cousin. His girlfriend Rene Mosier (Shannen Doherty) dumps him on the very sensible ground of him being a loser. Meanwhile Brodie's best friend TS Quint (Jeremy London) had plans to take his girlfriend Brandi Svenning (Claire Forlani) to Florida and propose to her in the Universal Studios theme park 'When Jaws jumps out of the water'. Unfortunately Brandi can't go because she has to help her father by being a contestant on the new game show he's producing, to replace the original contestant, Julie Dwyer, who had died7 after TS told her that the camera added ten pounds and she tried obsessively to swim too many laps to lose weight. TS and Brandi break up too. To console themselves, Brodie and TS got to a mall...
Brodie: Hey, THE mall. Show some respect.
Very well - THE mall, where, it turns out, the game show is being filmed. Brodie hatches a plan to hire two mischief-makers to ruin the show: none other than Jay and Silent Bob. Brodie discovers that his ex is already being chatted-up by Shannon Hamilton (Ben Affleck), the owner of the shop Fashionable Male. Also in the shopping centre is 15-year-old Tricia Jones (Renée Humphrey), the younger sister of Clerks' Heather, who is writing a book about the male sex drive. They also keep encountering TS' ex-girlfriend Gwen Turner8 (Joey Lauren Adams).
Brodie and TS embark on separate missions to win back the loves of their lives but along the way they need advice from a topless psychic, further wisdom from Spiderman-creator Stan Lee, the co-operation of Tricia and, showing how desperate they are, even help from Jay and Silent Bob. Only by combining all their forces can they succeed.
3. Chasing Amy (1997)
This was the big one, a mature comedy about sex and comic books that became Smith's most acclaimed movie to date. Holden McNeil and Banky Edwards (played by Ben Affleck and Jason Lee) are the artist and inker (not a tracer) who co-created a popular comic book series. This, titled Bluntman and Chronic, was inspired by Jay and Silent Bob who feature as crime-fighters. When they meet Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), the creator of a comic they initially dismiss as a 'chick-book', Holden instantly falls in love with her. When Alyssa freely mentions that she is a lesbian, he freaks out. Banky is interested in learning first-hand about lesbian sex and thinks Holden is nuts, a sentiment shared by their gay black comic book artist friend Hooper X.
Alyssa hopes Holden will become a close friend, but after they sleep together and start dating, pressure begins to threaten their relationship. Alyssa tells Banky that since she never saw a good example of a male-female relationship, it never made sense to her to automatically eliminate all women from her list of possible soulmates and didn't, but then she unexpectedly fell in love with Holden and feels justified that she got here on her own terms. Unfortunately Holden cannot overcome the fact that when trying to find her own sexuality earlier in life Alyssa had freely experimented and tried everything, long before deciding that actually all she wants is him.
Holden can't accept her past and his best-friend Banky hates and resents her for threatening his and Holden's close friendship, until both relationships reach crisis point.
Smith has said that, after Clerks was over-praised and Mallrats was over-abashed, he wanted to make Chasing Amy an honest film. This is reflected in the dialogue - at one point Holden says that he'll write something personal when he has something personal to say. Toward the end of the movie, Silent Bob surprises all by delivering a monologue explaining the title Chasing Amy. This allows Smith to break character to explain his real life experience dating Joey Lauren Adams.
4. Dogma (1999)
Boy, oh boy, did Kevin ever get heat for this one. Dogma was originally going to be made right after Clerks, but he felt he wasn't yet mature enough to do justice to this film about his faith. He wrote it when he was having some serious questions about his own faith and, although it does not presume to reveal any clear cut answers, writing the movie did help him overcome his crisis of faith. Smith has credited God in the 'With thanks to' section of the end credits in all his View Askewniverse films. Dogma met with criticism from self-appointed watchdog group the US Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who accused the film of being blasphemous without having seen it. This group, which does not have official church sanction, may have been using the film as a media crusade to generate publicity. Smith even received death threats from claimants asserting that the film questions Christianity when in fact it only questions interpretations of it.
Linda Fiorentino plays Bethany Sloan, who has all-but-given-up on God as she cannot have children and is divorced. Then one night an angel (Metatron, the voice of God, played by Alan Rickman) appears in her room and tells her that she is to be charged with a holy crusade. Aeons ago two angels named Bartleby and Loki (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) did not actually rebel against God, but did question Him. Banished from Heaven, instead of being sent to Hell they suffered an even worse fate: being sent to Wisconsin.
Thanks to the Catholic Church's dogma of Plenary Indulgence they may have found a way back in to Heaven. Cardinal Glick, portrayed by comedian George Carlin, has declared that all who enter his church in New Jersey will gain a morally clean slate. The angels intend to pass through this arch and die, and therefore ascend to Heaven. However, since God is infallible, proving Him wrong would unmake reality. In short, if the angels go into the church, the universe will end. On her way, Bethany meets Jay and Silent Bob, who are acting as prophets, as well as Chris Rock as Rufus the 13th Apostle. Other friends and foe include a muse named Serendipity, played by Salma Hayek, and a demon made entirely out of human faeces. Through the sojourn, Bethany learns about her faith and, in much the same way as Smith did, finds peace with her creator.
The film also stars Jason Lee as the demon Azrael and Alanis Morissette as God. Jeff Anderson plays a gun salesman and Brian O'Halloran returns as reporter Grant Hicks. Guinevere Turner appears again and Dwight Ewell makes an appearance as a gang leader. Smith intended Joey Lauren Adams to play Bethany; however as Linda Fiorentino had starred in the highly-successful big-budget blockbuster Men In Black (1997), she was the studio's preferred choice.
This film introduces the Mooby Corporation to the View Askewniverse. The company is a cross between Disney and McDonalds, combining fast food restaurants with children's entertainment and theme parks, and its logo is a golden calf.
Clerks: The Animated Series (2000)
This short-lived animated television series was made by Disney's Touchstone Television and premiered on ABC. It was cancelled virtually instantly - two shows were broadcast, and only six episodes were made. The original cast returned to do the voices (even Silent Bob) and also on hand was Alec Baldwin as some kind of evil overlord – although they had hoped to cast Alan Rickman. Versatile voice artist Tara Strong makes her first appearance in the View Askewniverse. It is possible that the show was unsuccessful because at the very heart of Clerks was its black-and-white, cheaply-made look that didn't translate into being vivid and animated.
5. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
This film was intended to be the final entry in the View Askewniverse series. Ben Affleck reprises his role from Chasing Amy, Jason Lee reprises his roles from Mallrats and Chasing Amy, and Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson are again Dante and Randal from Clerks. Of course, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith return as Jay and Silent Bob, who now take the helm of the picture in a road trip.
Jay and Silent Bob learn from Brodie that Miramax are making a heavily-criticised film featuring the comic book characters who are also called Silent Bob and Jay and turn into heroes Bluntman and Chronic. Angry that numerous people are bad-mouthing the fictional Jay and Silent Bob, and taking it personally, Jay and Silent Bob decide to travel across America to Hollywood to stop the film from being made.
On the way, at a Mooby's restaurant they encounter Justice (Shannon Elizabeth), a woman that Jay instantly falls in love with. She asks Jay and Silent Bob to steal an orang-utan for her from an animal testing laboratory. Really, they are being used as a distraction while she and her friends rob the neighbouring jewellery depository. Soon Jay, Silent Bob and Suzanne the orang-utan are being hunted by Federal Wildlife Marshal Willenholly (Will Ferrell), who believes they are the most dangerous fugitives in the country.
Following this farewell film in the View Askewniverse, Kevin Smith decided to make a more mainstream movie. Jersey Girl (2004) cost $35 million but only made $36 million at the box office. The biggest expense was paying Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez $10 million and $4 million respectively. After their film Gigli (2003), which cost $77 million and only recouped $7 million, it was apparent that audiences did not want to see a film starring the celebrity couple, something confirmed by Jersey Girl's test screenings. Despite having paid millions for Lopez to be in the film, most of her scenes were removed to persuade audiences to actually see it. Following this failure, Smith once more returned to the View Askewniverse.
6. Clerks II (2006)
Dante and Randal are 'funployees' making burgers and taking abuse from customers at a Mooby's Restaurant. It is Dante's last day there before he is due to head to Florida with his fiancée Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith). While Randal decides to secretly arrange a dodgy leaving do, Dante must come to terms with how he feels about his manager, Becky Scott (Rosario Dawson). Meanwhile Jay and Silent Bob are selling drugs outside the restaurant.
The film's credits end with: 'Jay and Silent Bob may return. As for now, they're taking it easy.'
Jay & Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie! (2013)
After Silent Bob wins $10 million from a scratchcard bought at the Quick Stop, Silent Bob and Jay spend the money on becoming superheroes Bluntman and Chronic, complete with Bluntcave, Bluntmobile and all the gadgets needed to become crime fighters. Yet everywhere they go they accidentally cause people to fall into vast vats of chemicals and mutate into monsters. These monsters form the League of Shitters and are led by supervillain Lipstick Lesbian: she seeks revenge because Jay had shouted sexual comments at her when she walked past him.
Directed by Steve Stark, not Kevin Smith, and produced by Jason Mewes (as Smith wanted to both challenge and reward him for staying away from drugs and alcohol), this is based on Smith's comic book Bluntman & Chronic, it is best considered an animated spin-off of a work of fiction in the View Askewniverse rather than a direct continuation of the series. There are two sides to Kevin Smith's writing – there's the poignant side that concentrates on relationships and friendships, and there's the side dedicated to dick and fart jokes. This tale is purely the potty-mouthed latter.
This cartoon is 64 minutes long and about as offensive as it sounds yet, despite containing a character called Dick Head, it passes the Bechdel Test. View Askewniverse regulars appear - Jason Mewes plays Jay and Kevin Smith provides Silent Bob's silences, while Eliza Dushku from Dogma plays Lipstick Lesbian and Jennifer Schwalbach Smith is Blunt-Girl. Brian O'Halloran is of course Dante. Tara Strong replaces Mark Hamill as Cocknocker. Albert, Bluntman and Chronic's butler, is played by Neil Gaiman. Stan Lee cameos as himself in a post-credits scene, because all superhero films these days have one.
7. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)
After being arrested for growing marijuana, Jay and Silent Bob are tricked into signing away the rights to their own names by their lawyer (Justin Long). The lawyer reveals he was hired by Saban Films to acquire the rights so that the Bluntman and Chronic film, which was based on their fictional namesakes, can be rebooted by director Kevin Smith. Learning that a key scene for this film is due to be made at that year's Bluntman and Chronic convention, Chronic-Con, Silent Bob and Jay travel to Hollywood.
They discover that Jay had fathered a child, Millennium 'Milly' Faulken (Harley Quinn Smith) with Justice. Milly and her friends from a support group, Jihad, Soapy and Shan Yu (Aparna Brielle, Treshelle Edmond and Alice Wen), force Silent Bob and Jay to take them to Chronic-Con too.
Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse is that rare beast, a film series that grows with its audience. Usually when a film that had been targeted at, say, 18-year-olds is successful, all the sequels are also aimed at 18-year-olds. However, the View Askewniverse does not follow this trend. Clerks was about the life experiences of people in their early 20s. Though Mallrats was made to be a teen comedy, subsequent films were about people in their mid-20s, then late 20s. Clerks II was poignantly about people in their 30s experiencing love and life and considering settling down, while Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is purely about finding yourself in your 40s with children of your own. While the jokes never mature or grow up, the films in which they are found definitely do.