Rated R - Running Time: 2:10 - Released 11/12/99

For those able to put aside their religious indignation and enjoy a hilariously irreverent but thoughtful treatise on the teachings of the old and new testaments, Kevin Smith's Dogma is just the ticket. Mind you, you have to have a pretty thick skin if you're a Christian, especially a Catholic. If you're an agnostic, however, you've got it made. Maybe that's why I liked it so much.

Dogma looks at Christian mythology as a sort of momentous soap opera. Smith, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, has created a story which, in tone, resembles Mike Judge's Office Space. Bartleby and Loki (played by Hollywood pals Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) are presented not as traditional angels but more like employees of God, if you will, and they have been given their pink slips (expelled from heaven) for insubordination. Loki, the angel of death, and Bartleby, the judge who points out the sinners for Loki to toast, decided to take a little holiday mainly because of Bartleby's sympathy for humanity. Now they are living in exile in Wisconsin, but thanks to a revolutionary revitalization program called "Catholicism Wow!" created by Cardinal Glick (George Carlin), Bartleby sees a way for himself and his friend to get back into heaven through a loophole in church doctrine. On a special "amnesty day" created by the Cardinal, parishioners have merely to pass through the archway of his church, and they will be instantly absolved of all sin. As is decreed in the Bible, any law of the Catholic church is the law of God, so our two renegade angels begin a road trip to Glick's church in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Of course, since God knows all and sees all, the entire population of heaven is onto our friends' plan. Another angel, Metatron, the voice of God (Alan Rickman), is sent to convince a young woman named Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) to go to Jersey and intercept Bartleby and Loki, since their plan threatens to circumvent God's authority and thereby destroy all creation. And why does God choose Bethany, a woman who is in the middle of a serious conflict of faith? Because she just happens to be the last blood descendant of Christ (well, of his siblings). Along the course of Bethany's grudging fufillment of her destiny, we meet biblical characters like the demon Azrael (Jason Lee), Rufus, the black apostle nobody knows about (Chris Rock), and Serendipity, the muse (Salma Hayek), who has put her inspirational powers to good use as an exotic dancer. There are also two hip-hop prophets named Silent Bob (played wordlessly by creator Smith) and his friend Jay (Jason Mewes), who serve as unwitting advisors to Bethany, although all Jay really wants is to get in her pants. Indicentally, these two characters have appeared in all of Smith's movies, including Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy.

This film, to say the least, is a very down-to-earth representation of an interesting biblical story. It is, to say the most, heresy. But those who would call it sacreligious (and there will be many) should look beyond the foul language and crude humor, to see more deeply into Smith's intentions to give the dusty doctrines of the ancient faith a fresh new perspective. Foul language aside, the film has some interesing things to say about human nature, and about the nature of those non-humans we have come to know and love, and hate, and pray to, and obsess about, over the last few millennia. The script is incredibly witty, and the acting superb. Smith's directing choices, like those of "The Creator," are at some times baffling, and at other times ingenious. And you'll never guess who plays God. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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