What a disappointment. From his sharp indie debut Clerks, through the patchy yet amusing Mallrats and the moderately entertaining Chasing Amy, writer/director Kevin Smith's career has been in the most spectacular freefall since Orson Welles went from Citizen Kane to Transformers: The Movie. Yet Dogma always looked like it was going to be the edgy one, the controversial one, the one to make us recall the brilliance of Clerks. Sadly, the best reason not to see it isn't because it's blasphemous. It's because it's a thoroughly boring movie.
If you had to pinpoint why it's such a turgid experience, then the main reason is that Kevin Smith is a writer, not a director. Not that this has ever been much of a problem before: his movies were static affairs where the characters had plenty of excuses to stand around talking to each other. But apply the same sort of banter to what should, by rights, be a fast-moving supernatural road movie, and it's just too much talking. And inexplicably, what little action there is all takes place either off-camera or before the scene starts.
Nearly as crippling is the treatment of the subject matter, which Smith has always maintained is poking gentle fun at Catholicism. An amusing introduction spells it out across the screen - - that this movie is meant to be funny and light-hearted. But if this is the case, then why the reference to the then-Pope's strong ties with Hitler during World War Two? And why does it take every opportunity to hit Catholicism where it's obviously going to hurt?
Now, unless you're Catholic, none of this will bother you, but as a film-watcher, the heavy-handed way it's pushed in will make you wince. Christ being black, the direct descendant of Jesus working in an abortion clinic, the Church ruled by penny-pinching revisionist historians... Oooh, how controversial.
And then there are the characters - - or rather the lack of them. Despite a stellar cast, the only real characters are Jay and Silent Bob, who've stumbled in from the previous movies simply to provide the film's few laughs. All the others - - the Afflecks and the Damons and the Hayeks and the Rickmans - - are there to serve as mouthpieces for Smith's exposition-heavy dialogue.
Example? How about a sewage monster lumbering towards them while poor Salma Hayek tries to whoosh through a huge speech involving Hell, the execution place of Jesus and the significance of the baddy? Natural behaviour or poor scripting? You decide.
When even die-hard Kevin Smith fans are rolling their eyes at a movie, you know it's a waste of time. And the tragedy is, if it kills off the whole religion/comedy/action/road movie sub-genre, then the chances of Garth Ennis' excellent Preacher comic making it to the big screen will be further away than ever.
Should have been good, could have been good, but a script that spends too long trying to justify itself smothers what might have been a funny and daring movie. The fact that all the best lines involve blow jobs shows you how far wide of the mark it is.