I have a hard time identifying my biggest problem with Dogma. Is it the lack of good narrative? Smith’s script, which does have some very funny scenes in it, is one of the worst attempts at an epical plot I’ve ever seen. It’s inept. It’s pat. Combined with some of the terrible performances, the whole thing feels like a made-for-the-internet video, the kind of thing someone would have done for cheap as an online video, but with his or her famous friends (giving bad performances). The big dramatic scenes are terrible, the one liners tend to work… a lot of the problem is the acting, and Smith’s inability to recognize his own terrible direction. He shoots Dogma widescreen (sort of, he shot in Super 35 and framed it to his liking… maybe a less wide presentation would have been better) and doesn’t know how to compose for it. With Dogma, Smith was directing his fourth feature film. One would think he would know at least how to do a decent composition with that aspect ratio. At least a workman composition. He doesn’t.
The acting. Maybe the way to start is listing the people who give an okay or better performance in Dogma. Matt Damon, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman, Janeane Garofalo and George Carlin. I supposed Bud Cort does a fine job, as do Clerks stars Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson. The rest? The rest of the cast give terrible, pedestrian, amateurish performances. Dogma‘s a disaster in terms of acting. Of the remainder, Chris Rock’s at least funny. He gives a terrible performance, it’s hard to even call what he’s doing acting, but at least he’s funny. Ben Affleck’s awful. How Smith didn’t notice he was terrible during filming is beyond belief. Affleck’s just mugging–the problem is mostly with Smith’s script, which is a bunch of speeches, there are no characters, except Damon’s. Smith also gets a bad performance out of Linda Fiorentino, which I wasn’t sure was possible, but he does it. Gold star for him that day! Jason Lee’s terrible. He’s so unfunny I watched his scenes wondering if his agent used clips from Dogma on audition reels. I doubt it. Salma Hayek’s performance is one of the worst in any major motion picture I can think of. I suppose Alanis Morissette’s fine, thinking about it.
Robert D. Yeoman’s photography is atrocious. He’s actually a great cinematographer and has shot a lot of far more complex films–for Wes Anderson for instance–so obviously the problem’s Smith. Big shock. Can’t compose for Panavision aspect ratio nor can he properly convey instructions to his cinematographer–Dogma, which wasn’t shot on a credit card, looks cheaper than many horror directors’ early projects (for example, The Evil Dead and Braindead look a lot more finished).
My wife says I don’t like Dogma because I don’t get all the religious references. Those are fine, but they’re parsley. They’re parsley on a moldy corn dog.
Written and directed by Kevin Smith; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Scott Mosier and Smith; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Robert Holtzman; produced by Mosier; released by Lions Gate Films.
Starring Ben Affleck (Bartleby), Matt Damon (Loki), Linda Fiorentino (Bethany Sloane), Jason Mewes (Jay), Chris Rock (Rufus), Alan Rickman (Metatron), Jason Lee (Azrael), Salma Hayek (Serendipity), Kevin Smith (Silent Bob), Janeane Garofalo (Liz), George Carlin (Cardinal Ignatius Glick), Alanis Morissette (God), Brian O’Halloran (Grant Hicks) and Bud Cort (John Doe Jersey).