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November 25, 2010

Beyond Silent Bob

Kevin Smith (left) with lifelong sidekick Jason Mewes
Kevin Smith is known for changing the independent film world. Nobody can deny that. With a meager budget by Hollywood standards, Smith and his producing partner Scott Mosier created a cult classic with a handful of unknown actors and a convenience store in New Jersey. With five follow-up films, comic books, an action figure line and a prime time cartoon series behind them, it seems that the Clerks crew may have run its course. But where else can Kevin Smith go?

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While Jay and Silent Bob seem to be his eternal legacy, Kevin Smith is quietly taking on more than most people could handle.

First off, let's look at the movies that don't fit in the Clerks universe. For the most part, they haven't really gotten much respect. Even the fourth Die Hard, which Smith only acted in got slammed for some reason. How can you not like that movie? Seriously, any Die Hard fan should appreciate all of the fun that was caught on film. Smith was great as the ultimate web geek, Timothy Olyphant was a brilliant villain, and Justin Long aside, there was really nothing wrong with that movie. Bruce Willis drove a car into a helicopter for crap's sake!

It takes guts to veer from what's comfortable. Smith could have kept feeding us the same characters over and over. We may have even kept them alive with ticket sales. Instead, he started to experiment with a few things. He directed a father/daughter love story, an action film, a television pilot, a horror film and a stand-alone comedy. Let's get into these for a bit.

Jersey Girl: People dumped all over this because of the highly publicized relationship between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez and their mega-disaster Gigli, which closely preceded Jersey Girl. The truth is that Lopez was only in the very beginning of the movie. Affleck was good and the relationship between him and his daughter was sweet. This movie also gave George Carlin his weightiest and probably most serious role in his film career. It wasn't Smith's best, but it's still a decent film.

Reaper: This TV series about a guy whose parents sold his soul lasted three seasons on the CW network. Kevin Smith directed the pilot episode, and this was the first time he directed something that he didn't write. The next time he'd do this would be Cop Out.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno: This should have been bigger because of the popularity of the leads, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. He was rolling through one hit after another, and she has proven to be an extremely versatile and talented actress. The cast also included Craig Robinson, whose popularity is still growing thanks to his part on The Office. This movie had good moments, but a lot of Rogen's dialogue seemed forced and overly vulgar. It did have some heart to it, but didn't really do much for me.

Cop Out: Originally titled A Couple of Dicks, this one couldn't keep its risque title thanks to the problems Zack and Miri had with advertising. This took the typical buddy cop scenario and added two new figures, Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. By the time I saw this movie, I hadn't heard a good thing about it. My expectations were extremely low. I found myself laughing many times through the movie, and I was interested in the characters. Tracy Morgan usually portrays a nut from start to finish, but he was actually thoughtful and serious in many scenes. It reminded me of him in his first sitcom, The Tracy Morgan Show, which was quite good, but didn't last. I could see a series of films here in the vein of Lethal Weapon. I think people were too busy getting on the "too fat to fly" bandwagon to give this movie a chance.

Red State: Little is known about this upcoming horror film, except that it's Smith's first. Apparently, right wingers go nuts, and terror ensues. The movie stars John Goodman and Stephen Root, which is enough to get me in the door.

Hit Somebody: Another new genre for Smith is sports. As a lifelong hockey fan, he decided that a film about a hockey player is the right way to go, and I agree. No cast or plot has been announced yet, other than the fact that the hockey player fights a lot. I guess we'll know more soon.

Smith has also toured extensively to perform long-form Q&A sessions. These have been filmed for a DVD series called An Evening with Kevin Smith. Three are out now, and I highly recommend them. Smith basically gets on stage at theaters around the country and gets things rolling with a few stories before taking questions from the audience.

Though he may have told some of these stories enough times to mold them and make them funny, his answers to fan queries seem unrehearsed and off the top of his head. In the series we learn about how he met his wife and their first sexual experience. We get to hear the true story about his involvement with the Superman reboot and his media inflated rift with Tim Burton. At times, we get to see Jason Mewes on stage, but he serves mostly as furniture or a conversation point for Smith. Seeing as he was touring earlier this year, I can't see any way this series will end without at least a fourth edition.

In between all of these things, Smith wrote for a few different comic book series, reaching both DC and Marvel comics. He wrote a very popular story arc for Daredevil with artwork by Joe Quesada. He started another arc which apparently was never completed. He also wrote a few issues of Green Arrow, and he is now working on a Batman arc with childhood friend Walt Flanagan. I wish I could comment more on these, but I'm not much of a comic book reader, so I'll have to leave that off here.

To me, the biggest and most interesting undertaking for Smith in recent years is his ever-growing podcast network. It started simply enough a couple of years ago with a show called SModcast. The show was a way for Smith and Scott Mosier to get together and catch up on each others' lives. The show quickly became a favorite and even spawned a book of transcripts of each episode. Smith and Mosier will often read from the book during live episodes, and thanks to an audience member's suggestion, they trade roles. SModcast was it for quite awhile. There was a short-lived Mewescast, but that was it until earlier this year.

The first addition to what would eventually become the network is called Tell 'em Steve-Dave. This features the previously mentioned Flanagan and Bryan Johnson, another one of Smith's good friends. Blow Hard features documentarian Malcolm Ingram, and Smith sits with Ralph Garman for Hollywood Babble-On. Smith also hosts Jay & Silent Bob Get Old with Jason Mewes, where the focus is Mewes' life. He discusses his drug addiction, crazy childhood and his current film career. Smith plans to add a new show with his wife and a show in which the participants play a D&D type of game live.

Many of the shows are recorded in front of an audience at a black box theater that Smith bought and called SModcastle. Not only does the theater host many shows, but it is available to other podcasters interested in recording live. The theater is also available for weddings.

Whenever an artist evolves, I find it interesting. As long as it is natural and not forced, I can get behind it. It also helps that what Smith is doing shows growth, and it's actually good. It all makes me wonder what Smith will do next. Riverdance, maybe? I'd actually like to see that.

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