1994 low budget comedy Clerks is writer/director Kevin Smith’s first film and the foundation for a 25-year strong series of films, comics, a cartoon, and a cartoon television show that have entertained literal generations of audiences. Dubbed the “View Askewniverse” by fans, the characters of Smith’s work largely inhabit the same world, frequently overlapping physically or merely by verbal reference. Sometimes, and with more increasing frequency in the last 20 years, it is a meta-vibe wherein notable casts members like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and others reference Smith’s other non-canonical Askewniverse works, implying that the projects do exist, making them tangentially related. In short, Kevin Smith found a way to make a career out of designing and developing his own projects with his friends and loved ones, bringing us along for the ride with him. In what appears to be the pinnacle production of extreme fan-service and id-fellatio, Smith’s latest film, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, brings together just about every familiar face audiences have met and loved in a story that’s hilariously familiar and with a heart bigger than Jay’s junk. BONG.
In the 18 years since Jay (Jason Mewes) and his hetero life-mate Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) journeyed to Hollywood to stop the production of the film based on the comic Bluntman and Chronic which were inspired by their likeness (see: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), Jay and Silent Bob have gone to rehab and helped their friends Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) repair and rebuild the Quick Stop (see: Clerks 2). However, the time has come for the duo to take action again after finding out that not only did they fail to stop the production of the adaptation, but that it’s being rebooted and a key scene is being shot at Chronic-Con in Hollywood. Once more, Jay and Silent Bob venture to Hollywood in a journey which seems all too familiar, which means that key elements are going to be changed (It is a reboot after all, not a remake). This time around, Jay and Bob are joined by Milly (Harley Queen Smith), the daughter of Jay’s ex Justice (Shannon Elizabeth), and her friends. But don’t worry, that’s not the only change up in a familiar adventure eighteen years in the making.
From a surface-level perspective, everything about Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is purely masturbatory. While totally forthcoming about how it’s as guilty as Hollywood of trying to pilfer the coffers, Reboot is nearly verbatim what Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) is in story, character function, and guest appearances. Even one of the characters makes reference to 1981 comedy classic The Cannonball Run, a subtle-by-Smith-standards hat tip to a film which is largely an excuse for some of the biggest stars of the day to hang out. Reboot may not feature the biggest stars of today — ok, there are a few — but it feels like a parade of significant names and faces to longtime fans given that the film reaches all the way back to 1994 for its Kevin Smith catalogue callbacks. It even goes so far as to reference the time when SouthWest kicked Smith off a flight for being too big for his seat in 2010, as well as his near-death experience with a heart attack in 2018. The entire run-time is nothing but moments of “Hey, it’s X!” and “I can’t believe they got Y!” and “Why do I recognize that face? Is that Z?”. In short, there’s nothing entirely new about Reboot that audiences haven’t seen from Smith before and it certainly doesn’t possess the skillfulness in writing, direction, or editing audiences have seen before from Smith. As stated, all of this is what audiences will notice on first glance.
In the parlance of Film Twitter, Reboot is for the fans, not the critics.
Kevin Smith is, for many, not just a purveyor of dick jokes, meta humor, and the occasional interspecies erotica; he’s a man who loves cinema and has shared that love for decades. Are his films low-brow? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean they lack heart or depth. Clerks explored how the daily grind can tear down someone if they allow it. His follow-up, 1995’s Mallrats, explored the excess of commercialism and the transactional aspects of love. The beloved-yet-problematic Chasing Amy not only gave Smith one of the best Silent Bob monologues but put an exclamation mark on a key aspect of Amy, the pitfalls of ignoring our own toxic masculinity. Smith’s works do lean away from their humble indie drama beginnings the closer to the 2000s they go, but each one does possess some internal examination, some pathos among the scatological humor, that keeps audiences coming back again and again. This reviewer may be one of a few who owns the more serious and saccharine Jersey Girl (2004) with pride, but there’s no denying the heart and love which pours out of every aspect of 2006’s Clerks II, a film that has zero business being funnier, more touching, and more eviscerating of pop culture, the work place, and love than the original. Reboot takes everything audiences know and love about the Askewniverse and brings them back, entirely feeling like a check-in with old friends, the ones you came to know at a special time in your life but, perhaps, grew apart from due to time and distance, yet still fall back into that same rhythm upon getting back together. There’s something unique and special about that which cannot be manufactured or replicated.
Filled with just as many eye-rolling moments as heart-tugging ones, Reboot is a film only a fan could love because, more than anything, Reboot is Smith at his most vulnerable. A greater theme in Reboot is legacy and how there are no third acts once children are introduced into your story. At that moment, what was your story becomes theirs. Audiences have watched him explore fatherhood before in Jersey Girl, but not like this. Reboot explores this through Jay, a character known mostly for his foul mouth and kind heart than anything else (sounds a little like Smith himself, no?). With the exception of Strikes Back, Jay and Silent Bob are the background players of every film, moving in and out at as needed, like a modern day Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, just with a less grim fate. Strikes Back saw them stepping into the forefront, but Reboot specifically sees Jay step up in a way heretofore unseen. Amid the sex jokes, weed, and head-spinning callbacks, Smith explores what it means to be a parent: good and bad, how the mistakes of our past can help guide the next generation’s future. Though the words come from Jay, they are specifically Smith’s and are, without question, directed at Harley as Milly. This is the heart and foundation that makes Reboot worth rewatching over and over, perhaps even with a new generation.
For decades, Smith has invited his fans into his mind, exploring stories that he wanted to tell. What changed is evident in the opening scene of Strikes Back in which a young Jay and young Silent Bob are first shown hanging out in front of the Quick stop. It’s not the origin aspect which stands out, but the actor for young Bob: Harley Quinn Smith (Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood). Strikes Back is also the first film Smith’s wife Jennifer Schwalbach Smith appears on camera, with eight more appearances to come. Smith’s always found ways to put his friends on camera, either as new characters or returning ones, but the ways in which he integrated his own family and continues to do so makes each new work take on the sense of a living photograph of a moment captured that we, his fans, are able to look at and treasure along with him. There’s something truly triumphant in watching Harley grow up on screen, especially in a film exploring the notion of parenthood and the impact of absentee fathers. In contrast to the narrative within Reboot, Smith is an all-too-present parent, seeking ways to remain close to his family and help support them in growing their own endeavors at the same time. The fact that Mewes’s own daughter, Logan, appears in a small, yet significant role in Reboot only continues the intimate nature of the film. So even as fans delight in seeing Jason Biggs and James Van Der Beek reprise their roles as alternate versions of themselves from Strikes Back, Jason Lee as Brodie from Mallrats, Ben Affleck as Holden McNeil from Chasing Amy, alongside new Askewniverse members Val Kilmer (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike), Kate Micucci (CBS’s The Big Bang Theory), Melissa Benoist (The CW’s Supergirl), and a slew of others who should remain surprises, there’s a constant undercurrent of sweetness amid the known faces and hypermeta callbacks reminding audiences that it’s not hilarity keeping these people together, but love.
The best way to describe Reboot is that this is Kevin Smith’s Avengers: Endgame. There’s no universe-destroying villain or superheroics of any kind, not even a single “on your left” uttered, but it’s no less a cumulative work trading on the emotional investment audiences go in on while watching Clerks for the first time. Smith’s narrative is woven together through projects he’s directed of a personal nature (Yoga Hosers) and some that excite him as a comic book nerd (The CW’s Supergirl) dating back to his own humble origins. Through this tapestry, Reboot becomes an exploration of a life lived, with those he’s met along the way becoming unwitting passengers through story after story, adventure after adventure. Even when Reboot takes shot after shot at Smith directly in some of the more amusing meta moments, the film never loses the emotional core upon which all the jokes and references revolve. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is by no means a perfect film, feeling at once all too familiar and unchanging, yet somehow the jokes are never dull, either by time or repetition. Rather, there’s something comforting about Reboot in the way it allows the audience to check in with the characters we’ve loved for so long, all while finding new ways to know the lovable scamp that is Jay.
Whether you were lucky enough to attend one of the Fathom Events in October 2019 or hit up one of the roadshow screenings, everyone can now enjoy Reboot in the comfort of their own home since it’s hitting physical media and digital services January 21st. There’re still opportunities to see the film in theaters and playhouses (details below), but all who purchase for home release will delight in the variety of special features within. Fans of Smith’s catalogue will enjoy the brief insights from cast members new and old discussing what Reboot and being a part of it means to them in the nearly hour-long “Cast Interviews” feature. Seriously, don’t put this on for background or expect it to be short. You’re going to get your monies worth on this extra alone. Where “Cast Interviews” is sweet and informative, “Kevin & Jay Interview Cast & Crew” takes on a more traditional Smith vibe while being informative. In the almost 30-minute extra, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes do on-camera interviews with the cast. One fun bit is when Jason Mewes interviews stand-ins for Smith, Harley Quinn, and Mewes, so be sure to stick around for that. On any given production, countless mistakes are made and Smith offers up almost 10-minutes of them in the blooper reel. Honestly, all it does is reinforce the camaraderie and fun the audience presumes cast and crew had while making the film. If you’re wondering what the “Hair Reel” is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s just the cast getting pretty between takes. The one thing that isn’t included in the special features and really should be is an extended version or explanation of the extremely touching moment that plays during the credits of Reboot. In this, Kevin Smith is interviewing the Marvel Comics icon and Mallrats actor Stan Lee during an unknown SDCC event and they discuss Lee’s involvement in Reboot. Bring tissues for that one.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital beginning January 21st, 2020 at your local retailer or buy directly from Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Special Features
Blu-ray Special Features
- Cast Interviews (58:47)
- Kevin & Jay Interview Cast & Crew (29:45)
- Bloopers (9:38)
- Hair Reel (1:43)
- Lionsgate trailers
Final Score: 4 out of 5.