Movies at Random – Dogma (1999)

“When are you people going to learn? It’s not about who’s right or wrong. No denomination’s nailed it yet, because they’re all too self-righteous to realize that it doesn’t matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith. Your hearts are in the right place, but your brains gotta to wake up.”

After three films building up an intertwined universe based in New Jersey, Kevin Smith expanded his scope to include Heaven, Hell and even Shermer, Illinois in his fourth film. This one was the biggest movie the cult indie filmmaker had ever done and it riled up members of the Catholic faith by its very existence.

DOGMA (1999)

Not even Kevin Smith would call Kevin Smith an artistic genius – he’s very hard on himself after 25 years of people shitting needlessly on his work – but his fourth film in the View Askewniverse really is quite brilliant, and the message still resonates all these years later. DOGMA is the story of Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon), two angels that God exiled from Heaven, finding a way back home. The only problem? Taking advantage of the Catholic concept of Plenary Indulgence (removing all the temporal punishment due to a sin) in this instance would prove God fallible, thus wiping out all of existence.

With God missing, the Metatron (Alan Rickman) taps Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a woman having a crisis of faith who also happens to be the Last Scion of the lineage of Jesus Christ, to stop the angels. She’s joined by Jay and Silent Bob and Rufus (Chris Rock), the forgotten 13th apostle.

Smith, a lifelong Catholic, mixes in Catholic allusions in with his usual array of movie and comic book references in a big budget (for him) action comedy. And it all works really well. It’s a true credit to Smith’s talent as a storyteller that he can take such a disparate pastiche and make it all work. It’s an enjoyable 2-hour movie that definitely holds up better than 1997’s CHASING AMY.

More important, I think, is how well Smith gets across the message of the film – faith isn’t a bad thing, but it has to be tempered with thought. As someone who grew up going to Catholic school and has become disillusioned with some seeming hypocrisies of religious movements, the film’s message still hits home.

DOGMA is the first of Smith’s films to feature a number of heavy-hitters from Hollywood, including Rickman, Rock, Salma Hayak and George Carlin having fun in supporting roles. Affleck, in his third Smith film, brings his pal Damon along this time around, and they are absolutely fantastic in their roles.

The biggest casting negative to me was Fiorentino. She was just two years removed from her supporting role in MEN IN BLACK with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, so having her in the lead role here makes sense, but throughout the film she gives off a vibe that she wants nothing to do with being in DOGMA. Her acting is stilted and emotionless, and in the few scenes where she tries to show off emotion, it feels completely awkward. I love DOGMA, but it could have been a much better movie with a different actress in the lead.

But other than that one glitch, DOGMA remains an amazing movie, and one Smith can take pride in having made.

That’s all for this time around. Be sure to vote in the poll for the next installment – info on the choices can be found RIGHT HERE – via our Twitter account.