Film: Oh for heaven's sake

Dogma (18) Kevin Smith; 130 mins

K evin Smith's Dogma has nothing to do with Dogme 95, the modish hairshirt currently sported by a number of international film-makers. More's the pity. No one set of doctrinal guidelines, however rigorously applied, could have turned this dog's dinner of a movie into anything resembling a work of art. But a little humility on its director's part, humility vis-a-vis his own all too limited gifts, might have made it a less punishing experience.

Its picaresque, corkscrewy narrative defies easy synopsisation, but here goes anyway. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, as two fallen angels, Bartleby and Loki, decide that their best hope of regaining the haven of Heaven is to pass through the portals of a New Jersey cathedral during its upcoming rededication ceremony. Determined to thwart them is a campy, English- accented seraph (Alan Rickman, doing what sounds like a Frankie Howerd impersonation) who enlists the reluctant aid of Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), an Illinoian abortion-clinic worker of wavering if not yet lapsed Catholic faith. En route to New Jersey, she in her turn picks up a pair of freaky drug dealers, Jay and Silent Bob; a jive-talking black, Rufus, who claims to be the 13th apostle, written out of the Bible on account of his colour; and a Muse, Serendipity (all played by actors you've never heard of and would never want to see again). From that point on, you're on your own.

Where to start? One feels like a schoolmaster confronted with an exam paper so unsalvageably hopeless he's tempted to slash a big red X across it and pass on to the next. Nothing, absolutely nothing, not a single idea, not a shot, not a camera movement, not a performance, not a gesture, not a gag, nothing at all, I repeat, works in this movie. Even nowadays, that must be some kind of a first.

You could argue that Smith deserves at least one out of 10 for chutzpah (an incongruous word in the context, but there is no other word for it). On its own infantile level, Dogma is indeed a movie about religious faith, a rarity not merely in the American but in any cinema. In the States it was vilified as blasphemous, and such church-affiliated organisations as the League for Religious and Civil Rights, the Sons of Italy and something calling itself the National Cops for Life lobbied for it to be boycotted. Smith, on the other hand, termed it "my love letter to God", albeit, he concedes, "with a few dick and fart jokes thrown in".

They're all right and they're all wrong. When one sees the movie, one realises that Smith has his priorities completely reversed. As yet another Hollywood farce gigglingly obsessed with bodily functions - it could have been entitled not There's Something About Mary but There's Something About Jesus - it's basically a collection of dick and fart jokes, albeit with a love letter to God thrown in. As such, yes, naturally, it's blasphemous (though it's also fundamentally conformist, even reactionary). But since the blasphemy is of the mooning variety, closer to the far funnier Life of Brian than to Bunuel's L'Age d'Or, the Catholic church really shouldn't have bothered getting its silken knickers in a twist. Blasphemy, after all, is a capacious offence: it runs the gamut from Nietzsche announcing the death of God to some pimply youth scribbling a moustache on the Virgin Mary.

Nor is Smith as intellectually sharp-witted as he manifestly fancies himself to be. The characters' ongoing debates on the paradoxes of faith remind one of nothing so much as half-stoned teenagers collectively musing about, like, what's going to happen when we're, like, dead, you know? And how seriously can one take a movie whose dialogue (by the director himself) allows Rickman to refer to himself as "a seraphim" (which would be like describing Kevin Smith as an assholim) or Affleck to complain of having had to hang around earth "for a millennia". A millennia? To commit so elementary a solecism! And in 1999, of all years!

At the end, God herself (yes, herself) makes a brief cameo appearance. She's played by Alanis Morissette as a frumpy plain Jane in a frilly Sandra Dee party frock. So what? It's blasphemous all right, but that's all it is. And blasphemy without a coherent context, blasphemy for its own nose- thumbing sake, is a pointless and ultimately depressing expenditure of energy.

That said, I confess I'm glad I saw Dogma because, while watching it, I myself had a revelation of sorts - not what you'd call a divine revelation but a nice one nevertheless. It suddenly dawned on me that, along with several of my colleagues, I've been attacking the American cinema for all the wrong reasons. Week after week, we've been bemoaning its debilitating lack of ambition, its readiness to pander to the lowest common denominator, its insidious dumbing down of the public's tastes and expectations. How could we have been so obtuse!

Dear Hollywood, pay no attention to the admonitions of your critics. If ever one of your big fat blockbusters, one of your gross teen comedies, is attacked, just drop your pants and turn the other cheek. Pander away. Dumb down. Content yourself with being a pretty face, darling, and forget all that nonsense about ambition. Let's have more special effects, more shattered plate glass, more explosions, more dick and fart jokes, more sequels and prequels, Titanic II, American Pie III, The Second Blair Witch Project, There's Something Else About Mary. More trash, please, and less art. And, whatever you do, for God's sake stop trying to "think". You know it just gives you wrinkles.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing