I admire the hell out of people who bet on themselves, and Kevin Smith has been betting on himself his entire life. It’s not a gamble that always pays off (Cop Out, the True North trilogy), but it never discourages him from betting on himself again.
The thing that Kevin Smith has been fighting hardest against over the last decade — beginning with Red State back at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival — is the cost of marketing a film. Kevin knows his shit on this score and rightfully doesn’t understand how a film made for $10 million with a $15 million revenue ceiling can turn a profit if a studio puts $20-$30 million in marketing that film. This was the problem with Kevin Smith’s post-Clerks output: All of his films earned around $30 million. That was Kevin Smith’s ceiling, which would have been fine because his films were made inexpensively, except that the studio also had to sink $30 million in advertising. So, Kevin basically said f*ck it, blew off the studio system, and with Red State, he bet on himself.
Nine years later, and he is betting on himself again with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, a $10 million film that he has been taking on tour since October. Last night, he made a stop in my town of Portland, Maine, the 50th on the tour, where Smith said that he’s already earned the movie’s $10 million budget back. It’s easy to see why: He sells out auditorium-sized venues, and he charges $25 to $200 a ticket.
It’s worth every f**king penny.
It’s not because Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is a great film, but it is a great experience. It’s basically like going to a Bon Jovi concert with other Bon Jovi fans to listen to Bon Jovi play all their greatest hits. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is tantamount to Kevin Smith’s greatest hits, a movie where Silent Bob is pitted against Kevin Smith himself, and where everyone from the View Askew universe who appears on screen is greeted by the audience like Kramer walking into Jerry’s apartment for the first time.
Smith himself spoke for about 20 minutes before the screening (before speaking for another hour or so afterward), and he sold the movie as a Rocky Horror Picture Show type of experience. I’ve been following Kevin Smith for 30 years. The man is a consummate salesman. He blows smoke up your ass better than anyone. But he was absolutely right about Jay and Silent Bob. It is a magical, intoxicating communal experience (and it helps that the movie plays in venues where intoxicants are available).
To review the film on its merits, however, kind of misses the point of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot because the product Smith is selling is not a movie; it’s an experience (that is available for digital download). Smith himself admits that the movie is chopped up bits from his screenplays Clerks 3 and Mallrats 2, while the meat of the story is inspired by Jason Mewes and his real-life turn as a father (his adorable toddler daughter is in the movie, and seeing her while knowing what we know about Mewes will bring a goddamn tear to your eye.).
The movie itself is a sort of aimless road-trip movie that sees Jay and Silent Bob travel cross country from Jersey to Hollywood to stop them from rebooting Bluntman & Chronic. That’s mostly just a framing device that allows Jay and Silent Bob to reunite with a lot of their View Askew friends: Rosario Dawson, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Lee, Justin Long, Brian O’Halloran, Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn, and Matt Damon. Smith managed to recruit some great cameos, too, from Chris Hemsworth to Frankie Shaw to Molly Shannon to Joe Manganiello, Keith “The Dishes are Done” Coogan, Melissa Benoist even f**king Val Kilmer! Ben Affleck also returns as Holden McNeil, and goddamnit, it’s the soul balm every Kevin Smith fan needs. Affleck delivers. I don’t want to spoil it, but the cameo is supersized, it involves Joey Lauren Adams, and it’s the best cinematic hug of the last year.
Look: Kevin Smith is not going to expand the tent with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. I think Smith gave up the ghost on that after Cop Out, resigning himself to a lifetime of servicing his base. There are worse things than having a few million passionate fans who have seen all the warts and adore you anyway, and that’s exactly who comes to all of these screenings. I came in with two competing predispositions — my fondness for Kevin Smith versus my role as a movie critic who has seen Tusk and Yoga Hosers — and ultimately, Kevin Smith won out, not as a filmmaker or actor, but the Kevin Smith who has been inviting us into his life for the last 30 years.