Laugh-Lite Life Lesson 

Laugh-Lite Life Lesson

By Ian Grey

Jersey Boy

Interview by John DeFore

A few words from director Kevin Smith on topics other than Jersey Girl

John DeFore: Does all the heat you got for `Smith's controversial religious comedy` Dogma give you any perspective about the Passion brouhaha?

Kevin Smith: It does. I realized that I wish to God I had beaten the shit out of Jesus in my movie. We'd might have made some serious box office. It's kind of weird to me: he `Mel Gibson` didn't really go through much, did he? I guess he's got everyone thinking he's a little crazy now, because he came across as a little - devout would be a nice way of saying it - in interviews. I guess the stuff getting out there about his old man was kind of embarrassing, but ultimately that dude really didn't have to put up with anything. He kind of spun a little tidbit about a few Jewish theologians saying, "This movie could be construed as Anti-Semitic" into, like, essentially, "You'd better see this movie if you're a Christian."

JD: So you think most of what's out there is the result of `Gibson's company` Icon brewing stuff up?

KS: Yeah, I think Mel turned a tempest in a teapot into a must-see movie, and good for him, I guess. But did that dude receive 300,000 pieces of hate mail? We did. Did he get a death threat? We did. You know, he got off real light. And what did he ultimately do that was all that controversial? Except put a lot more blood into a story that, you know, wasn't really that blood-thirsty to begin with. I mean, he has to die on the cross and come back in three days, that's a very crucial part of the story, but when I was being raised, it was about Jesus as your friend, more about his life and his teachings than his death. And Mel and his father are from that old-school, pre-Vatican II kind of Catholocism, where it's about "Jesus died for you! Kneel and wear a hair-shirt" and shit like that.

So good for him. He made almost as much in his first day of release as we made in our entire theatrical life. Knowing what I know now, I might have swapped out the Buddy Christ for the Bloody Christ. 'Cause that's apparently what people wanted. The wanted to see Jesus getting the tar knocked out of him. Which is weird, because I was always taught to love Jesus.

JD: How's Jason Mewes `who played Jay to Smith's Silent Bob` doing?

KS: Fantastic. April 6, it will be one year clean and sober, without a drink and without a single drug, which is amazing, because for a while he was knee-deep in heroin and Oxycontin. After the court-mandated rehab of six months, he cleaned up and did his time. It's weird to see the maturity level that's crawled out from under the drug-induced haze. The only times he was ever really clean was when we were shooting movies. Keeping him clean between movies was the difficult thing. But now he doesn't seem to care about that. His life is a hundred times better.

We had a discussion before I went on the press trail, where he said "dude, you said if I got and stayed clean for a while, you'd think about doing another Jay and Bob movie." And I said "I did," and I do often think about it. I think once we get Green Hornet and Fletch Won out of the way, we might head down that road again. •

Kevin Smith's 'Jersey Girl' follows saccharine sitcom formula

Most likely to end up as a Trivial Pursuit question regarding the fall of Bennifer, Jersey Girl is a laugh-lite Life Lesson seemingly assembled so as to convince Miramax brass that one-time slacker auteur Kevin Smith is ready for more grown-up mediocrities.

The stylistic advances seen in Dogma have been ixnayed for Smith's usual sloppy craftsmanship. The dialogue is often lame, the pop tune selection worse. In place of Smith's trademark Jay and Silent Bob sex and shit jokes is saccharine sitcom formula; the director mainly stays in touch with his roots via a scene involving repeated closeups of a female baby's genitalia covered in feces.

Anyway, music biz flak Ollie (Ben Affleck) and wife Gertrude (Jennifer Lopez) are hip and rich Gotham lovebirds. J.Lo dies giving birth. Unfortunately, this passing enables Affleck to indulge a very long grief monologue leading to a funeral montage scored to subpar Aimee Mann. (Another stunning musical miscalculation: Affleck's later moping is scored to Bruce Springsteen's Sept. 11 lament, "My City of Ruins.") Rattled by Gertie's death, Ollie screws up a Fresh Prince fete, moves to New Jersey to live with his cranky dad (George Carlin), and acquires an amorphously blue-collar job demanding neither skills nor training.

After a seven-year jump Ollie's champing at the suburban dad bit--understandable, as Gertie II has grown to be a noxiously adorable movie kid played by Raquel Castro. Still pining for the PR big time, Ollie enters an awkwardly choreographed romance with video store clerk Maya (Liv Tyler, cutely luminous in a neo-Phoebe Cates manner and the film's sole delight). Then there's a school play, a race against time, and Ollie learns What Really Matters. Cue horrible Pete Townshend song.

Early on, Ollie opines that there are two kinds of people--New Yorkers and Jersey residents. Smith's New Yorkers are all grating Type A careerists living in corporate midtown. Jersey is represented by Maya's video store (which is heavy on Miramax titles), a strip mall, and alcoholic boomers. The reason why either location is even tolerable is indicative of a more troubling quandary regarding Smith's own position in the movie business food chain.

The film's waffling upscale aspirations, over-the-top Miramax product plugs, and star cameos betray a dishonest stance by Smith toward his own success. As long as one doesn't actually live among the glitterati and wears a baseball hat backward, one can claim Jersey homeboy cred, lazily crank out inept pap, and not worry that one's fan-boy base will notice. Which, you know, is kind of disrespectful. •

Jersey Girl

Writ. & dir. Kevin Smith; feat. Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Raquel Castro, Jason Biggs, George Carlin, Jason Lee, Liv Tyler, Matt Damon, Stephen Root, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Will Smith, Mike Starr (PG-13)

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