Dogma DVD

A war is being waged on Earth between heaven and hell, and the unlikely protagonists are a pair of fallen angels played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.


dogmanThe “Good Will Hunting” stars and Oscar-winning writers play Bartleby and Loki, two angels sentenced to spend an eternity in Wisconsin. When word arrives of a loophole that will allow them back into heaven, the two set off on a road trip to New Jersey and hopefully salvation.

What they don’t realize is that their loophole may buy them entrance back into heaven, but will also end civilization. A small price to pay for redemption? Not in writer-director Kevin Smith’s “Dogma,” a miraculously funny comedy that has been taking a lot of heat from the Catholic Church.

You can understand their concern. Never one not to pull punches, Smith attempts to answer a lot of questions the church sidesteps. The church always takes the easy way out: it’s a matter of faith. Smith doesn’t let the church off so easily in “Dogma,” which after all is said and done is actually an inspiring and life affirming film.

Those who have protested the loudest are also the ones who haven’t seen the film. They are the ones who stand in front of the theater with their picket signs but never open their minds long enough to step inside and see what all the fuss is about.

They might be offended at what they see, but Smith’s message is just as valid and vital as the one they’re preaching out on the picket line. Smith questions faith and religious manifestos, but he also has the guts to try and answer the very questions he raises. There is a lot of hypocrisy in religion, and that hypocrisy is steeped in irony.

Smith seeks out that irony in “Dogma,” and more often than not succeeds in finding it. Yes, he pokes fun at the circus religion has become, but once you enter his three ring tent, you also understand his motivations. He’s not being mean or cruel, he’s being honest. Having faith is one thing, taking incredible leaps of faith are another.

Smith has recruited a wonderfully engaging cast to do his tiding. Affleck and Damon are playful as fallen angels Bartleby and Loki, who spend their time hanging out at the airport. When word reaches the two that a new Church proclamation creates a loophole allowing them to return to heaven, they pack up their wings and head for New Jersey.

Their destination is an old church preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. If they walk through the arches of the church, their miserable existence on Earth ends and they return to heaven. What they don’t know is that the loophole was discovered by another fallen angel, Azrael (Jason Lee), who is so desperate to escape from hell that he is willing to terminate all of mankind.

The only person who can stop the two angels from fulfilling prophecy is Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), a Planned Parenthood worker who is called into service by Metatron (Alan Rickman), the voice of God. Bethany is joined on her trip by two unlikely Prophets, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), a 13th Apostle named Rufus (Chris Rock), and a muse named Serendipity (Salma Hayek).

“Dogma” eventually becomes a wild road trip, with Bethany caught in the middle between good and evil. Azrael and his minions do everything possible to ensure that Bethany fails, including unleashing a trio of killer street hockey punks on her entourage. It is just one of the film’s many outrageous conceits.

From the opening sequence, involving George Carlin as the New Jersey Cardinal who proposes a the church adopt a new, friendlier image of Christ than the one on the cross, to the finale, which not only exposes God as a woman, but also as singer Alanis Morisette, “Dogma” is irreverent but never disrespectful.

Smith is smarter than that. He doesn’t attack religion as an institution, but instead focuses on those who have made a mockery of it. Ironically, it is these very people who are up in arms over the film. By making a film that mocks these people, he brings the debate full circle.

I appreciated “Dogma” for being able to entertain even while it engages these debates. Not every theological discussion has to be hellfire and brimstone.

Linda Fiorentino is absolutely winning as the reluctant Bethany, whose transformation from small town clerk to savior of the world is honest and believable. Fiorentino evokes just the right amount of weariness and disbelief of a woman testing her faith at every turn.

Fans of Smith and his body of work will welcome the return of Jay and Silent Bob, who have popped up in every Smith film since “Clerks.” Both Mewes and Smith have matured as performers, and using them as prophets adds gravity to some of the film’s more out of this world moments.

Smith also grounds comedian Chris Rock, who delivers a comic performance that doesn’t sound or feel like a stand-up routine. Salma Hayek is delicious as the muse Serendipity, forced to work as a stripper after she takes a fall from heaven. Alan Rickman also has some choice moments as the wry voice of God, who would give anything to finish off a shot of tequila and grow back his genitalia.

Even though it tackles weighty issues, “Dogma” remains true to its comic origins. Smith’s dialogue is both funny and insightful. He makes you laugh at the most unexpected things. He turns angels into serial killers, and human waste into a foul-smelling monster. Even when you’re jaw is left dusting the popcorn on the floor of the theater, you can’t help but smile.

“Dogma” definitely isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some will be turned off by the film’s excessive nature, including enough profanity and carnage to fill two Oliver Stone films. Those expecting a Roma Downey moment will also be mortified.

Those willing to cut “Dogma” some slack and just sit back and enjoy the show will find a hearty supply of laughs, outstanding performances, and enough to think about long after they leave the theater.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: 20/20

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.35:1 Widescreen

check.gif (406 bytes) 16×9 Enhanced

check.gif (406 bytes) Full Frame

Smashing digital transfer actually looks better than the film I saw in theaters. Positively stunning colors and industrial strength blacks are just the beginning of the picture. A pristine negative allows for a beautiful transfer that delivers sharp, vibrant colors that actually leap off the screen. Flesh tones are so real you swear you can touch them, while depth of field and attention to detail are excellent. There’s a lot going on in Smith’s frame, and the 2.35:1 widescreen image gives the viewer the full Monty. Nothing is sacrificed in the process. Outstanding effort.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) French Language Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

Mayhem abounds in “Dogma,” and the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack puts everything in its place. The dialogue mix is eerily realistic, causing me to pause the player several times to reassure myself it was the movie and not some maniac outside the window (you never know). Stereo separation is state of the art, with distinctive splits that lend true realism to every scene. Surround effects are sporadic, but they are effective, while the rear speakers come alive with lots of data. Basses are strong and exciting, while middle and high ends purr with perfection. No hiss or distortion here.

ORAL: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing

check.gif (406 bytes) Subtitles in French and Spanish

COORDINATION: Clumsy

check.gif (406 bytes) Colorful main and scene access menus.

check.gif (406 bytes) Two theatrical trailers, including “Dogma” and “The Opposite of Sex.”

check.gif (406 bytes) Cast & Crew Bios.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent

Go ahead and buy a copy and piss of all your overtly religious friends.

VITALS: $27.98/Rated R/128m/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: DOGMA

BIRTH DATE: 1999

HMO: Columbia-TriStar Home Video



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