JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT
(US - 2019)
TUSK and YOGA HOSERS. Smith's been away from the View Askewniverse since 2006's CLERKS II and it's barely five minutes into REBOOT before you're wishing he'd made that sabbatical a little longer. There was some potential here for insightful meta commentary on the state of movies, franchises, fan conventions, or any other target ripe for satire, but the lazy and aggressively unfunny REBOOT is content to settle for a series of references straight from the Friedberg/Seltzer comedy school, where the reference is the joke--references to other movies (Jason Mewes' Jay is doing a SILENCE OF THE LAMBS junk-tuck in the opening scene in a gag recycled from CLERKS II; when Smith's Silent Bob finally opens his mouth, it's to recite Alec Baldwin's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS speech to attendees at a Klan rally, where the Grand Wizard invokes "Can you dig it?" from THE WARRIORS), callbacks to earlier Smith movies (Ben Affleck shows up for a positively Bruce Willis-ian cameo as his CHASING AMY character, in a scene that's so bad at concealing the fact that he and Mewes weren't there at the same time that its clumsy editing almost has to be intentional), and would-be sick burns on Smith's own movies (COP OUT is a recurring target). But the endless self-deprecation feels less like genuine ribbing at his own expense and more like Smith pre-emptively shrugging "Hey, yeah, I know this whole thing is just stupid bullshit, but whatever." Everyone's default mode here is to mug shamelessly, and as a result, the film makes a lot of noise, but none of that noise is the sound of laughter.
And the sad thing is, old-school Kevin Smith could've done something with the basic idea of JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT. After getting busted for running an illegal weed dispensary inside a fake chicken sandwich joint (called--wait for it--Cock Smoker) inside the old RST Video next to the Quick Stop, Jay and Silent Bob end up in court. It's there that conniving lawyer Brandon St. Randy (Justin Long) gets them to sign over the rights to their names and likenesses to Saban Films (also REBOOT's distributor), who now own the "Bluntman and Chronic" comic book franchise and are rebooting the nearly two-decade-old cult superhero comedy BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC (as seen in 2001's JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK) as the dark and grim BLUNTMAN V CHRONIC, to be directed by "Hollywood hack" Kevin Smith (playing himself in a dual role). Now, in what's essentially a reboot of STRIKE BACK, REBOOT has the pair heading off to "Chronic Con" in Hollywood to stop Kevin Smith from making the reboot. Along the way, they end up meeting Millennium "Milly" Faulken (Smith's daughter Harley Quinn Smith), the daughter Jay never knew he had with STRIKE BACK's Justice Faulken (Shannon Elizabeth), taking her and her friends (including Aparna Brielle as a girl in a hijab named "Jihad") along for the trip.
Smith still has a ton of buds in the View Askewniverse, so there's endless cameos, none of them even remotely amusing: Craig Robinson as "Judge Jerry N. Executioner," and Joe Manganiello as his bailiff; Brian O'Halloran as Dante; Jason Lee as Brodie; Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa; Chris Hemsworth as a hologram of himself; Fred Armisen in the longest set-up possible for a thudding punchline to an unfunny joke about Tater Tots for teenage girls called "Hater Totz"; Keith Coogan, Jason Biggs, and James Van Der Beek as themselves; Rosario Dawson as Justice's wife; Smith's wife Jennifer Schwalbach as a fast-food manager who seduces Silent Bob in the restroom; Chris Jericho as the KKK Grand Wizard; Val Kilmer as the new Bluntman opposite Melissa Benoist as a female Chronic, with Tommy Chong as their butler Alfred; Method Man and Redman as their HOW HIGH characters; and a tired-looking Matt Damon in a pointless appearance as Loki from DOGMA. What? No Johnny Depp as TUSK and YOGA HOSERS' Guy LaPointe? Is there even a point in reviewing something like this? Like Rob Zombie, the attendance is dwindling but the dutiful die-hards will always be there, and like Zombie, Smith has reached the "self-indulgent home movie" phase of his career. And if Saban Films had any faith in REBOOT at all, they would've given it a full-fledged theatrical release instead of relegating it to a two-night Fathom Events screening last fall before sending it to Blu-ray. It's a complete waste of time and talent, but if nothing else, I guess COP OUT's standing just got a little higher in the Smith filmography. (R, 105 mins)
LINE OF DUTY
(US/UK/Germany - 2019)
CROWN VIC, another day-in-the-life cop movie, LINE OF DUTY is an initially intriguing thriller that doesn't take long devolve into an outright howler. Veteran cop Frank Penny (Aaron Eckhart, also one of 32 credited producers) is lounging outside a carryout goofing off with a neighborhood kid when all hell breaks loose over the radio. A sting operation overseen by police chief Tom Volk (Giancarlo Esposito) has gone to shit nearby when the target flees and sends the cops on a frantic chase. Despite orders to stand down and not engage, Penny pursues him on foot in an impressively long sequence that takes up nearly 15 minutes of screen time. Penny is forced to shoot when the perp pulls a gun on him, and only then does he realize why there was an order to stand down: the man he just killed is Max Keller (James Hutchison), who has kidnapped Volk's 11-year-old daughter Claudia (Nishelle Williams) and is the only person who knew where she's being held. Disgraced already and with a rep as a "cowboy" after a past incident where Volk was forced to bust him down from detective to patrolman, Penny isn't about to let a little thing like "turn in your weapon and go straight downtown to IA" deter him from setting things right. And joining him is a sentient compilation of woke hot takes in the form of Ava Brooks (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD's Courtney Eaton), a snarky and incredibly smug vlogger for the online outfit "Media for the People," who spends most of her time saying things like "Whatever goes out is what my camera sees! Unfiltered!" while bitching about corporations and "sheeple." Ava ends up tagging along and livestreaming the entire pursuit after Penny figures out that Claudia is being held in an plexiglass box that will be completely filled with water in 64 minutes, tearing apart Los Angeles (played here by Birmingham, AL) to find her before it's too late.
Directed by Steven C. Miller, who's helmed numerous installments in Lionsgate's landmark "Bruce Willis Phones In His Performance From His Hotel Room" series, LINE OF DUTY works until it becomes a Penny/Ava buddy movie, where he tries to stay focused on the task at hand while she keeps demonstrating how little she knows about the world--and actual news reporting--usually ending every statement with "Just sayin.'" There's a lot of sanctimonious hectoring from Penny about letting cops do their job and how the media just "spins the truth into whatever sells." It almost turns into BLUE LIVES MATTER: THE MOVIE, as Penny is shown tossing out every section of his morning paper except the sports page, a facile way of showing he doesn't take sides politically, and then we see him talking about basketball with a young black kid, so you know he isn't one of those racist cops. But then the main villain is introduced in the form of Max's meth-head brother Dean (Ben McKenzie), who crashes his SUV in the middle of a busy downtown area and starts mowing down cops HEAT-style in his search for Penny, who the whole city now knows was the cop who pulled the trigger on Max thanks to Ava's borderline irresponsible livestream. LINE OF DUTY is one of those films where a character like Dean can go on a massive rampage of death and destruction and all of the cops in the city seem to vanish into thin air (also, it completely forgets about the "real time" element as all of this goes down in what's only supposed to be an hour). From then on, the already far-fetched film turns unintentionally hilarious, culminating in a ridiculous, horseshit feel-good climax that truly has to be seen to be believed.
Eckhart somehow manages to keep a straight face throughout, but the terribly-written script by Jeremy Drysdale (whose only other feature credit is the 2004 Johnny Knoxville vehicle GRAND THEFT PARSONS) seems to think it's making salient points and blow-the-doors-off revelations about the media and its perception of cops, but it's all trite platitudes and cardboard cutout characterization. Eaton's indescribably grating performance is really hard to take, but there's nothing that anyone could've done when stuck with the kind of cipher she's playing (cue the pop culture references with the discovery of a homemade bomb in Dean's house, when she has time to sigh-quip "Texas Chainsaw MacGyvers!" prompting Penny to call bullshit on her earlier "I don't even own a TV!" posturing). And don't miss Dina Meyer as a local TV news producer strutting around the station's control room emphatically barking orders like "Let's get our Eye in the Sky over there!" Wouldn't she just say "chopper?" It's like a guitarist friend of mine complaining a few years ago about Denis Leary's short-lived series SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL, when Leary's rock star character would refer to his guitar as an "axe," like telling someone "Hand me my axe.""I've been in bands for 30 years," my friend said. "And nobody in a band calls it an 'axe.'" No one in this movie talks like a real person. Eaton's character, in particular, is a hysterically overwrought version of what the "OK, Boomer" crowd imagines a pushy and ambitious young "new media" journalist must be like. Filled with ludicrous dialogue, absurd plot machinations, and the usual bush-league CGI fire and car flips, LINE OF DUTY still isn't the worst Steven C. Miller movie, but it's definitely the funniest. (R, 99 mins)