Dogma (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Kevin Smith and his team have just released their special edition DVD of Dogma, which includes a massive amount of additional material on two disks.

There are 100 minutes of deleted scenes, almost as many minutes as there are in the film itself (125). There are the complete storyboards from three scenes. There are outtakes. Kevin is there commenting on everything in between the scenes. There are two commentary tracks, one from the cast, and one from Kevin and the crew. The whole project is a must-have if you are a fan of the View Askew productions, which I am. I bought one. Ya gotta support the comedy cause, and we only have Trey Parker and Kevin Smith doing much of value these days.

Do I like Dogma? No, not much at all.

A quick recap of what is necessary for a good movie comedy:

1) you need good jokes and a fast pace

2) you need real, clearly-defined characters

3) because of #1 you need actors who can deliver comic lines

4) because of #2, you need actors who can create characters and stay in them

Dogma doesn't do well on these criteria. Taking them one by one:

1) It is very slow, very talky, and has long, long monologues. One critic wrote that the garrulous characters make Eric Rohmer's characters seem like Silent Bob. In fact, the entire film is, more or less, nothing but monologues, and the deleted scenes are much worse. Fucking Hamlet has shorter monologues. There are monologues as long as seven or eight minutes. (Linda Fiorentino delivered an eight minute monologue which was both touching and beautifully performed, but not intended to be funny. They cut it out. I have mixed feelings about that one. The rest were just things like Jason Lee and Matt Damon whining interminably, intending to be funny and failing)

2) All the characters are exactly the same, and speak exactly the same. They are all essentially Kevin talking, no matter which side they favor in the cosmic struggle. The only difference between good and evil is that they offer different value judgments at the end of their long, tedious monologues.

3) We are taught that loyalty is an important and positive quality among humans. It is mostly the movies that preach this. Kevin seems to believe it. He would rather remain loyal to his friends than be funny. Matt Damon has been great in many movies, and Ben Affleck has appeared in many movies, but these guys aren't funny. Ralph Fiennes is funnier than they are. The prophetess Cassandra had the light touch compared to Affleck. Kevin has to stop using these guys in major roles. I know they are great guys, and they are his friends, and their names provide box-office because of their recognition value, but they aren't even a little bit funny. Sorry.

4) Chris Rock, on the other hand, is funny. Problem with him is that he is Chris Rock, now and forever. Give him a role where he can play an acerbic young comedian, and not have to deliver any lines that interact with other actors, because the lad ain't no Olivier. The same problem accrues to Jason Lee, but to a lesser extent. Lee can play some roles. He was OK in Almost Famous, and he wasn't totally awful as the whiny sidekick in Mallrats and Chasing Amy, but he was sorely tested in this one, delivering long monologues as an evil spirit. Similarly, George Carlin is one of the funniest men who ever walked the earth, but was hapless as a cardinal. Kevin really has to re-think his casting choices, bearing in mind that he needs to be loyal to the people who pay eight bucks to see the film, not to his buddies.

To Kevin's credit, he chopped out half of the original cut, and then chopped even more after screening it at Cannes and for test audiences. That three and a half hour version must have been nothing more than a three and a half hour sermon. At least now it's only two hour sermon. Cut it down to a fifteen minute short, and it might be taut comedy.

There were plusses. Linda Fiorentino was great. She is both a good actress and excellent with comic lines. The two dim-witted stoners, Jay and Silent Bob, were good, as always. Kevin Smith, the director, is also Silent Bob.

(By the way, Silent Bob sings the theme song from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in the deleted scenes. That is a unique moment in film history, sadly left on the cutting room floor.) 


male: Chris Rock is seen naked on his stomach when he falls from heaven

female: none, but

1) when Linda Fiorentino rolls out of bed to get a baseball bat, she opens her legs far apart, and is wearing panties

2) Salma Hayek dances in a bikini which shows off much of her buns

3) Hayek shows some impressive cleavage in the deleted scenes

Dogma was controversial because of what some people perceived as its attack on theology, Christianity, and specifically Catholicism. Those people better not see the deleted scenes, which include graphic descriptions of what Mary and Joseph's sex life was like after Jesus was born, when Mary was free to discard the whole virgin thing. You see, the bible only mentions that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, not what happened afterward. "She was a screamer", Chris Rock tells us, and he heard that straight from Jesus, who was trying to sleep in the adjoining room.

And then there was "Hosties". If you are familiar with the film, you know that there is a undercurrent about "Catholicism - Wow!", a movement to make the church more hip and contemporary, the centerpiece of which is the retirement of the scary Crucifix ("Christ didn't come to earth to give us the willies"), to be replaced with the new "Buddy Christ". The deleted scenes show another element of the new marketing plan, the Catholic Church's recommended cereal, tiny little communion wafers called "Hosties", filled with unleavened goodness, and now with pink marshmallows as well. Funny stuff.

I guess I know why they cut that. I can imagine the flack they got from organized religion for the stuff they left in. When I was writing The Abominable Showman, I only got into trouble once, although I did all kinds of black humor and sex jokes. I had "Bowling for Shelter", for example, in which the homeless would be invited into the bowling alley on a freezing winter night. If they got a mark, we'd give them a warm room in the Ramada, but if they got an open frame, the audience would shout "out in the cold". Cruel stuff, but never a single call to the network or the station to complain.

But when I made fun of religion - oh, boy did the phones light up. In fact, I got into trouble for material almost identical to the stuff they cut from Dogma. I played the part of Saintly Father Greg, a young priest who was trying to fill the pews again. Nobody really minded some of my suggestions, like computerized confessions, but the one that got me in trouble was my all-you-can-eat Communion buffet, featuring "regular liturgical" items and "new Mexican-style". Hey, that little host is not much Sunday Breakfast competition for the Grand Slam at Denny's. Well, if our obscure show got so many complaints, I can imagine how people took up arms against Dogma.

People actually thought computerizing confession was a good idea. The computer gives you a menu, you choose the sins you have committed, and it calculates your penance objectively. And it won't give you forgiveness if you don't check the "terms and conditions" box. ("I hereby certify that I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, ....."). In the old pre-computer days, your penance would depend on what priest you got. I always went to the "hard priest", because the lines were shorter. Everyone wanted the "easy priest". But that guy I went to was tough. I mean you could go to the easy priest, and confess that you actually committed the Tate-Lobianca murders, and he'd tell you to say three Hail Mary's and make a good act of contrition. But if you went to the hard priest and told him you filched a nickel from your mom's purse to buy some baseball cards, he'd make you re-enact the stations of the cross, playing the part of Christ. 

And, damn, it's hard to get those thorns out of your hair. 

Kevin's direction wasn't too much better than his character development. I don't believe he understands that cameras do not have to be stationary objects and, even if you leave them in place, they can do all sorts of cool things like zoom in and out, and pan left and right. These are things he might consider practicing. Or maybe he should spend more time on his scripts and hire a real director. 

I have to tell you that the film is not at all anti-Christian, in my opinion. Elya, my significant other, who was raised in the Godless Russian society, found it to be reverent and syrupy in its theology, because it rips on the silly medieval constructs of organized religion, but ultimately substitutes some sappy deism. How could anyone examine the tenets of religion so minutely, find all the loopholes and absurdities, then blindly smile away all the equally obvious absurdities of the monotheism itself? It is like criticizing Goldilocks and the Three Bears because the porridge didn't cool fast enough, and ignoring the major fact that bears can't talk. Movie critic John Podhoretz wrote "the real problem with Dogma is not its anti-papism, but its aggressive and offensive piety"

So there you go. Both pro-religionists and anti-religionists hated Dogma because of what is inside them, not because of what is in the movie. The movie is just supposed to be a comedy. It is supposed to make fun of stuff. Personally, I don't care what you rip on. Make jokes about religion, death, shit, impotence, my mom, maiming children, Polish webmasters, I don't care. I know the difference between a joke and reality. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • see the main commentary for details

I don't care whether you do jokes that are anti-atheist or anti-religion. Comedy may take on subjects I hate or subjects I love. Comedy may be highbrow or low. It may be sophisticated or sophomoric. It may be realistic or absurdist.

But if you are going to do jokes successfully, there are three things you have to remember. Only three simple rules that define the expansive comic universe. Do anything else you want with jokes, but:

  • they have to be brief
  • they have to be funny
  • they have to be delivered by a person not named Affleck

Sorry, Kevin, nice try bud, but back to the drawing board.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, 

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 64% positive overall, 69% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5 
  • With their dollars ... it did a fairly solid $30 million domestic gross, on a $10 million budget
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Comedy with a lot of brains, but not enough laughs. 

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