So, I saw Tusk, Kevin Smith’s latest film, the other day. Needless to say, I was not a big fan.
Sure, it showed that Kevin Smith is still a deeply ambitious director. Yet, it lacked everything that once made him one of my heroes. This inspired me to go back and take another look at the View Askewniverse. This is the name of Kevin Smith’s earlier films that all took place in the same New Jersey town, making him the John Hughes of the Garden State. All of the film’s contained interlocking and recurring characters.
For the most part, each View Askew film could be viewed individually without knowing the joke and still be enjoyable. The references to his other films served as a nice bonus for dedicated fans. This is the opposite of Tusk, which seemed like it was made for dedicated Smodcast fans.
Here is a look back and official ranking of the films that made up the View Askewniverse. With this, I hope to go back to a simpler time in Smith’s career, and also answer the question as to why he has become such a cult icon:
6. Clerks II (2006)
Clerks II is a sequel that nobody asked for. But when it comes to the general public, Kevin Smith has very selective hearing. For what it’s worth, Clerks II is not terrible. There’s a memorable debate about Lord of the Rings and an even more memorable accidental racist tirade. It even has some heart to it, and it eventually resolves Randall and Dante’s bromance. Amazing debate about racism aside, “meh” is about the best way to describe it.
5. Chasing Amy (1997)
Smith got a lot of notice and a lot of praise for Chasing Amy, which has a bit more dramatic weight to it than his first few features. It’s an unfortunate truth in Hollywood that it’s hard for a comedian to be taken seriously until they’ve made something serious. Chasing Amy is one of Smith’s most genuine screenplays, and it even manages to squeeze more than just a few words out of Silent Bob. I will remember it most though for its amazing Jaws homage, which takes reference humor to a whole new level (look it up; it’s very NSFW).
4. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is kind of a mess, albeit an incredibly amusing and funny mess. It takes meta to an insane level, where actors play characters, and then those actors play themselves. I’m pretty sure Jason Lee plays at least three different people in this. It tip toes the line of being too self-indulgent, and only sometimes steps off course. jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was Kevin Smith’s acknowledgment that he was mainstream now, but still not above making fun of himself.
3. Dogma (1999)
Dogma is one of those movies that was always on during my childhood for one reason or another. Comedy Central used to show it every day. Hell, they even showed it to us in Hebrew school. It’s a great little religious parable and a rare opportunity to see Alan Rickman play an angel. Dogma proved that Kevin Smith could explore the meaning of life all while throwing in a few castration jokes along the way.
2. Clerks (1994)
Where it all began. Clerks was made with a microbudget and a loose plot that managed to change independent film forever. Even with some of the dated qualities (eventually, nobody will know what a video store was), Clerks holds up incredibly well. Smith was once much less broad than he would later become, and Clerks somehow spoke to a whole generation. This is a conversation heavy film that is never boring. One conversation about Star Wars sticks out to me. Remember, this was a time when it wasn’t cool to love Star Wars. Sure, he has strayed a lot, but Clerks shows why Kevin Smith was once so groundbreaking. Kevin Smith inspired people by showing that any slacker could pick up a camera. The unique part about Kevin Smith, though, is that he isn’t just any slacker.
1. Mallrats (1995)
Smith’s follow up to Clerks was panned by critics and a bomb at the box office, but it rightfully found a cult following years later. Here is a film that is basically about nothing but also about two idiots trying to sabotage a game show. Mallrats is the best sampling of Kevin Smith’s worldview: a world where pop culture obsessives who do absolutely nothing get to be the heroes. Plus, it contains an important cameo by Stan Lee as well as my favorite Ben Affleck performance to date. It’s a perfect crossroads between high low brow (a debate about whether Superman could get Lois Lane pregnant) and low low brow (two words: stink palm).