Kevin Smith’s Dogma, which is about fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) trying to connive their way back into Heaven, has a fair amount of notoriety going for it: Its distribution shifted from the Disney-owned Miramax to the more independent Lions Gate, and it’s been attacked by the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. For a film that ought to singe the sensibilities (isn’t it time we had our very own Buñuel?) Dogma, however, turns out to be a rather sweet bit of blasphemy – if that’s what indeed it is – committed by a director who sees the world not through a glass darkly but through the eyes of a comic-book maven.
The characters in Dogma – including a seraph who speaks with the voice of God (Alan Rickman), a stripper Muse (Salma Hayek), the thirteenth apostle (Chris Rock), and a woman who works for Planned Parenthood and tithes part of her salary to the church (Linda Fiorentino) – all have the squiggly eccentricities of cartoons. And yet Smith’s professed Catholic piety, or at least his irreverently reverent version of piety, informs the film: Periodically, his characters come out with scrunched sermonettes about faith and reason and what all, and the effect is like listening to the socially conscious bits in message movies. Smith is a spirited jester, and parts of Dogma are bright, icon-busting fun, but most of it is a god-awful mess. And shouldn’t a movie about transcendence have more transcendent imagery?