Dogma

on November 12, 1999 by Lael Loewenstein
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One of the most eagerly anticipated and highly controversial films of the festival, Kevin Smith's "Dogma" surprises mostly by how pro-faith-not sacreligious-its message is. The advance press had Catholics so incensed by "Dogma" that Miramax agreed not to release the film under its Disney-owned banner; instead, Bob and Harvey Weinstein undertook the highly unusual move of meeting with various distributors. At press time, the Weinsteins still had not decided whether to sell or self-distribute the film. And with a crop of hot actors that could sell the film on their names alone, the Weinsteins might not wish to let this one go.
   Opening with a brief disclaimer reminding us that this is, in fact, a satire, Smith launches into an overlong but intermittently hilarious comedy (he calls it a "comic fantasia") that features the writer-director's signature blend of base humor and bright, articulate social commentary. The labyrinthine storyline of "Dogma" follows lapsed Catholic Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), who receives a midnight visit from a heavenly messenger (Alan Rickman). He tells Bethany she has been called to save humankind by traveling to New Jersey to stop an evil plan currently being hatched by two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon). Reluctant and perplexed, Bethany nevertheless agrees to help out. Along the way, she encounters the quirky, sex-obsessed duo Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), a black friend of Jesus named Rufus (Chris Rock), the lovely stripper Serendipity (Salma Hayek) and an evil being named Azrael (Jason Lee). Whether she will make it to New Jersey in time to save the world is anybody's guess.
   There are ridiculously self-indulgent and simply disgusting sequences-Bethany being pursued by a poop-monster, for instance-that desperately need to be cut. But there are kernels of genius here, and if Smith could trim the fat from this film, he might come up with something worthy of his considerable talent. Curiously, Smith and DP Robert Yeoman have filmed in widescreen, which feels appropriate neither to the subject matter nor to the rather scattershot manner of storytelling. Starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino and Alan Rickman. Written and directed by Kevin Smith. Produced by Scott Mosier. Comedy. A Lions Gate release. Not yet rated. Running time: 135 min.
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