”It’s been a miserable f—ing two months,” says writer/director Kevin Smith, whose low-rent yet highly entertaining ”Clerks” and ”Chasing Amy” have made him an indie icon. His latest, ”Dogma,” proves that Smith has more on his mind than sex and comic books. You can see for yourself — if someone would just let you. Fearing that potential controversy would once again put protest-target Disney under fire, Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein bought back the Catholic satire from his own studio and has begun shopping it to other distributors. To date, it remains unsold.
Hence, Smith is miserable. But he found reason for optimism last month at the Cannes Film Festival, where Miramax screened the film for press and distributors. Smith’s spin on the reaction: ”There’s going to be no outcry. Nobody’s life is in danger. Maybe some will maintain that it’s a little blasphemous, but it’s not ‘Priest,’ it’s not ‘Hail Mary,’ it’s not ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.”’
In ”Dogma,” Linda Fiorentino plays a descendent of Christ and a lapsed Catholic who’s inexplicably tapped by an angel (Alan Rickman) to save the world from two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) who are conspiring to re-enter Heaven. Other stars include Chris Rock and Salma Hayek.
But is ”Dogma” controversial? Depends how you feel about playing the sacred for profane laughs. ”It’s a rumination on faith and dick jokes,” quips Affleck. ”If you see the movie you understand the tone. It’s a fable. It’s a comic book.” Still, it’s a dicey decision for Fiorentino’s descendent of Jesus (itself a thorny thought) to be employed at an abortion clinic, especially given the conceit’s origins. Explains Smith: ”It just afforded me the ability to make one cheap joke — when Jay says, ‘We’re here to pick up loose women.”’
Yet ”Dogma” also wants to be taken seriously, bouncing as it does between puerile humor and provocative theological ideas. Smith says it’s the work of a devout believer, one who attends mass every week, even though he often finds the worship uninspiring. ”I don’t have, like, a zillion problems with the church,” says the director. ”I definitely object on a lot of points but not so much that I reject the whole concept out of hand. I wanted to do something that celebrated my faith because I certainly wasn’t getting to do that in the church.”
One of the funniest things about ”Dogma” is its pre-credit disclaimer. Weinstein had to twist Smith’s arm to add one — the director felt he was being asked to apologize for his movie. But Smith warmed to the idea when Weinstein told him he could write anything he wanted. Still, even the disclaimer was subjected to censorship. ”In the first draft there was a line that said ‘For those of you who are thinking about smiting us over this trifle of a film remember that that’s God’s job, and if the film is truly blasphemous, God himself will kill us and we’ll burn in hell. Thank you. Enjoy the show.’ Harvey didn’t like it. ‘Don’t bring up smiting,’ he said. ‘You’ll give people ideas.”’