Dogma Movie Review

Thanks to all the is-it-or-isn't-it-blasphemy controversy surrounding "Dogma," writer-director Kevin Smith has added a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer to the opening of this renegade ribbing of the Catholic church that is so amusing ("...God has a sense of humor, just look at the platypus") it will have audiences in stitches even before the first line of dialogue.

Whether or not you'll think the movie stays this funny will depend on how sensitive you are about your position on the religious yardstick, your threshold for soapbox pontification and what it takes to gross you out.

Smith, the maverick Generation X satirist responsible for ragtag underground hits "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy," makes no bones about testing the limits of irreverence and good taste in this ironically snappy and smart-mouthed theological deliberation.

"Dogma" is subversive dark comedy about two mischievous fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) trying to exploit a loophole in the Bible that can get them back into Heaven, no matter what they've done in their eons of banishment here on Earth. The only catch: If they succeed, they'll have proven God fallible, thereby bringing about the end of the world.

But Loki (Damon) and Bartleby (Affleck) don't much care about that. They've grown appalled at how far humanity has fallen. So on their way to the New Jersey church where they plan to cross over and crowbar their way past the pearly gates, the angels go on a sinner-targeting killing spree just for kicks -- something Loki takes particular pleasure in, since he was once happily employed as an angel of death, before the Almighty gave up his wrathful ways in the New Testament.

Of course, God has a plan to stop them, and his strategy hinges on Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a misanthropic abortion clinic worker in the throes of a faith crisis who is reluctantly recruited by a sulking, sardonic archangel (Alan Rickman) that breaks into her house, announces she's the Last Scion and charges her with saving humanity.

As with all Smith's films, "Dogma" thrives on raucously sarcastic dialogue that is surprisingly full of deeper and abstract meaning. So after much persuasion, Bethany sets out on a cross-country pilgrimage, accompanied by a witty, philosophical corps of unlikely reinforcements with whom she debates the finer points of religious conviction, rediscovering her faith in the process.

Chris Rock plays Rufus, the 13th apostle who harbors 2,000 years of resentment over being written out of the Bible because he's black. Salma Hayek plays as a Muse named Serendipity who works as a stripper. And Smith's perennial super-slackers Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself) turn up in hilarious roles as oblivious prophets who hang around outside Bethany's abortion clinic hoping to pick up chicks.

Smart, seditious and fantastically complex, "Dogma" is seasoned with backhanded biblical slaps at pop culture (a fast food restaurant's mascot is a golden calf) and organized religion. George Carlin plays a cardinal trying to reinvigorate his flock with an ad campaign labeled "Catholicism Wow!"

It questions God's infallibility and Jesus' race. But it also condemns practicing religion without devotion, and chastises Catholics who treat their faith like a burden. In fact, "Dogma" is ultimately a subversive celebration of religious conviction, and Smith is deliberately provocative with his message because he wants to force his audience to set aside preachy preconceptions and knee-jerked judgementality before this can become clear.

At times Smith lets this rascally momentum get the best of him with some gratuitous, while-we're-at-it excesses (I could have done without the exploding head and the monster made of excrement) that encroach on the movie's good humor and undermine -- if only slightly -- its cleverness.

But while "Dogma" will almost certainly seem vile to conservatives and fundamentalists, for those with an open mind and a sense of humor that considers little to be off-limits, this movie may very well be a revelation (please pardon the pun!).

Comments

Dogma Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, Opened: Friday, November 12, 1999

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