THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC ** Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Pascal Greggory, Vincent Cassel, Tcheky Karyo; rated R (violence, gore, profanity, rape, vulgarity); Carmike 12, Cottonwood Mall and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Loews Cineplex Midvalley, Trolley Corners and Trolley North Cinemas; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.
Faith is a tricky thing to explain, much less present on film.
But that hasn't stopped filmmakers from trying. And frankly, the results haven't been encouraging.
For every classic like "The Ten Commandments," there have been at least two or three not-so-classic movies, like "Jesus Christ Superstar."Two new films one that's already been the subject of protests and another that comes from an equally loathed-and-loved filmmaker fit into the latter category:
The world probably won't come to an end with the release of "Dogma." In fact, the only thing that's likely to end is filmmaker Kevin Smith's string of minor box-office successes.
Smith's newest comedy has been no stranger to controversy members of the Catholic League picketed screenings at the recent New York Film Festival. However, all that did was bring added attention to what is, frankly, an erratic and only sporadically interesting movie.
Smith ("Clerks," "Chasing Amy") has always been a better screenwriter than director, and here even his writing instincts fail him. "Dogma" is filled with interesting, thought-provoking concepts, but the script never manages to explore them with any degree of depth, and the humor rarely rises above junior-high locker-room level.
Linda Fiorentino stars as Bethany, who works in a Planned Parenthood clinic and who has lost her faith in Catholicism and religion in general. But all that is about to change in a hurry.
Bethany receives a visitation from Metatron (Alan Rickman), an angelic messenger of God who tells her that she is the last direct descendant of Christ. He also charges her with stopping two fallen angels, Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon), who are threatening to "undo" reality if they can exploit an ecclesiastical loophole and be "forgiven" by the church, which would allow them to return to heaven.
Fortunately, Bethany isn't alone in her quest. Joining her are two "prophets," actually stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), who have appeared in all of Smith's films; loud-mouthed Rufus (Chris Rock), who claims to be the 13th apostle; and Serendipity (Salma Hayek), a muse-turned-stripper.
As you can tell, the film treats its religious material in Smith's typically irreverent fashion. And in the beginning which includes a very funny bit about attempts to make the Catholic Church "hipper" he manages to balance that with some insight.
But after the film's first third, the material peters out, and any cleverness is replaced with cheap, stupid humor, much of which comes from the mouth of the tiresome Mewes, who's at his worst here.
Smith is also in need of a good editor. At more than two hours, the film feels padded there's a scene in a strip club and a Disney parody that serve no real purpose, and some other sequences run on far too long.
To his credit, the filmmaker has compiled quite a talented cast. Fiorentino is perfectly feisty and confused as Bethany, and it's good to see on-screen nice guys Affleck and Damon playing villains for a change.