Dogma, the new film by Kevin Smith, is just as thoughtful and religious, as it is crude. This is a difficult feat to accomplish, but leave it to Smith to come up with a movie that does both these things. Smith, who made Mallrats, Chasing Amy and critic's favorite Clerks is back with another movie starring Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), a horny motormouth slacker and his silent but expressive friend. Okay, they're not really the stars but they do show up in all of Smith's movies, and they are here again, now with an expanded role. Dogma is about two angels, Loki (Matt Damon Good Will Hunting, Saving Private Ryan) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck, Forces of Nature, Shakespeare in Love) and their attempts to get back into Heaven. God threw them out to Wisconsin eons ago, and they are itching to get home. They discover a loophole in Catholic dogma that allows them the opportunity.

It seems that a New Jersey bishop (George Carlin, Prince of Tides, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey) is trying to revitalize Catholicism to attract more of today's youth. He is rededicating his church, and the Pope has granted him permission to offer plenary indulgences; anyone passing through doors of the church are forgiven of all their sins. Loki and Bartleby reason that by being forgiven, they can reenter heaven. Unfortunately, by going into heaven, they prove God fallible, thus endangering existence. Metatron (Alan Rickman, Bob Roberts, An Awfully Big Adventure) the Voice of God, calls upon Bethany (Linda Fiorentino Men in Black, The Last Seduction), a Catholic who has lost her faith to stop the angels. Helping her are the prophets Jay and Silent Bob, Rufus (Chris Rock, Dr. Doolittle, Lethal Weapon 4) the thirteenth apostle, who is bitter because he was left out of the Bible because he is black, and Serendipity (Salma Hayek, The Faculty, Wild Wild West) a former muse turned stripper. Against this motley crew is the demon Azrael (Jason Lee, Kissing A Fool, Enemy of the State) and his band of roller hockey kids. The movie becomes, of all things, a race to New Jersey.

Smith's movies are full of crude bathroom humor and lots of dialogue. Here, the language and low brow attitude reign supreme. As in his other movies, Smith's script is deftly funny. Paradoxically, the conversations between the characters are deep and introspective. Knowledge that Smith says he is a Catholic sheds a new light onto this film. From the first couple of minutes, it is instantly obvious that the characters in the movie (and Smith) believe in the fundamental truths of the Bible. There is no debate about whether or not the Bible is true. Bethany is confused and frustrated at everything going on. She demands to know why God has abandoned her in her time of need. The dialogue is surprisingly frank and full of Christian concepts, dealing with the longing for God, his (her) infinite love and patience, the history of the Bible, and more. And most of it will fly over the heads of most of the people watching the movie.

There is also a lot in Dogma that may seem controversial. Carlin, famous for his Seven Words You Can't Say routine is cast as a bishop. Alanis Morrisette is cast as God, who is a woman. Other things that could annoy are the idea that Jesus had siblings (which Catholics disagree with), the idea that Jesus was black, and of Bethany working in an abortion clinic. But you have to remember that this movie is a satire. And there is something deeper going on here. Is the movie theologically sound? If you scrutinize it to compare it to ideas in the Bible, of course it will fail. I would argue that any movie made on the principles of Christianity will fail somehow (especially ones like the recent Omega Code). But Smith isn't a theologian. He is a moviemaker. Dogma is first and foremost a movie, and a very entertaining one at that. What better way to talk about God to people who would otherwise avoid church like the plague than to insert it fully in a movie made for them? If you are paying attention, Dogma also raises some fascinating questions about the nature of God and Christianity, which was one of Smith's goals. Smith's Dogma is the rare movie that succeeds in seamlessly blending sophmoric humor with its deeper ruminations.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated R for strong language, sex-related dialogue, violence, crude humor, and some drug content.

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