1994 is considered a turning point in the history of American cinema, because for the first time, independent, low-budget films, that is, those that looked like that, managed to reach a wider circle of audiences. The most deserving for that is certainly the master Quentin Tarantino, whose instant success of the film Reservoir Dogs gave hope and inspiration to many young authors to start their trip to Hollywood with films made with miserable means. One such author is Kevin Smith, a young author and comic book fan from New Jersey, whose Clerks, filmed for a pittance in 1994, became the object of adoration for a small but fanatical group of his followers.
Smith, of course, could never compete with Tarantino in terms of popularity, but it can be said that it was in his favor in the long run, because while Tarantino’s star was relatively darker with age, Smith’s career was tirelessly rising. One of the reasons was that Smith, unlike Tarantino, remained true to his ideas and ideals, often coming into conflict with major studios and producers. A typical example is this project, a harsh religious satire that his parent distribution company Miramax had to give up after demonstrations by Catholic fundamentalists in the US and Smith found an alternative distributor.
The protagonist of the film is Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a cynical abortion clinic worker, who is met one night by Metatron (Alan Rickman), an angel who serves as the Voice of God and tells her that she must embark on a mission to save humanity because she is a distant descendant of Jesus. Christ. Namely, Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) in New Jersey, in an effort to make Catholicism modern and popular, offered forgiveness of sins to all who visit the church. Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), two angels whom God banished to Earth, heard the news, and saw in it an opportunity to return to heaven.
The problem is that God is infallible, so playing on his will would ruin everything. Bethany has to stop two angels in their mission and she will be helped by numerous bizarre characters – Jay and Silent Bob, two small dealers who join her only after she promises them sex. then Rufus (Chris Rock), the thirteenth apostle to be kicked out of the Bible for being black, Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a muse earning a living in a strip club. Azrael (Jason Lee), another fallen angel, has some plans of his own, so he is ready to stop that team with a team of his demons.
Kevin Smith wrote the screenplay for this film long before he made his famous debut, and the film itself shows how its author has been thinking about its theme for a long time and has a clear opinion about it. Although many Catholic fundamentalists attacked the film as an insult to their religious feelings, the author claimed that he was a Catholic and did not specifically attack the faith, but the way in which it has recently become distant from modern believers through the practical work of the Catholic Church. This is perhaps the biggest problem of this film, because Smith takes this topic too seriously for his usual style of storytelling, in which cheap jokes and the maximum use of swear words and street expressions reign supreme.
At the same time, one gets the impression that Smith tried too hard to reconcile his Catholic feelings with the effort to make the film modern and acceptable to contemporary younger audiences. Such attempts have a somewhat pathetic result, like the modernization campaign launched by Cardinal Glick at the beginning of the film. However, perhaps the biggest sin of the film is its inequality – while at the beginning it is a devastating satire, in the second part Smith begins to preach through the mouths of his characters making the film dead serious, as if to show that he is a serious Catholic with a serious attitude. The very end of the film is the least convincing, because Smith does what contemporary authors do when they don’t have a quality script – they use special effects.
Smith’s original script was intended for a three-hour film, but the producers cut it to two hours and fifteen minutes, and a lot was lost there. The plot is a bit fast-paced, and there are too many characters that simply do not remain in our memory, although they are interpreted by very good actors. There is Smith’s standard team (Affleck, Damon, Lee, Mewis) and popular actors Alan Rickman, Selma Hayek and Chris Rock. I got the impression that Linda Fiorentino was a popular actress at the time, but here she is totally impersonal and pale.
The problem with this film is that the author has set too high standards with his earlier works, but he is unusual enough and intelligent enough to be different and remain in the memory. Fans of religious films and relatively good satires will enjoy it.