There’s no faulting Kevin Smith‘s sheer enthusiasm for a project. His inspirational story of making Clerks on a shoestring back in 1994 has a direct line through to the batty idea that led to the social media campaign that spawned 2014’s Tusk. This follow-up to the latter actually has more than a passing spiritual connection to Smith’s indie debut, tipping his backwards cap to fans with his weirdest creation to date.
Taking the Eh-2-Zed convenience store workers Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) who cameoed in Tusk, Smith constructs a narrative around the minor characters who became local heroes and wannabe rockstars after the dramatic events of that earlier film. However, when killer Bratzis – that is, miniature Nazis made of bratwurst – start killing the locals, the ubiquitously mobile-connected Colleens must team up with legendary hunter Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) to save Canada.
Smith has long been making films designed to consciously appeal to his existing fanbase. Since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), the knowing wink Smith gives his audience has carried over into his live talks, his podcast empire and his social media streams. There are times when YOGA HOSERS feels like one long in-joke, from the obligatory Jay Mewes and Ralph Garman appearances, to direct dialogue references to previous films (“I’m not even supposed to be here today.”) There’s one sequence where Garman simply riffs on all of his character impressions, from Al Pacino to Ed Wynn, and it’s about as inside baseball as a film can get. It’s hard to begrudge Smith the goodwill he earns from so enthusiastically setting out to please his faithful followers, and the thing is: he gets away with it.
The overall concept is a patently ridiculous one, telegraphed by Depp the elder’s return appearance as Lapointe, but Smith is fully aware of this and has a prearranged middle finger already levelled at critics. “He’s not talking about killing real people. He’s just killing critics,” explains Lapointe, directly addressing naysayers as a Nazi leader plots to wipe out his foes. Smith’s stance on critics may seem pouty, and incredibly strained by the umpteenth repetition, but as usual he’s preaching to the choir. The film may not be critic proof, but any negativity will surely roll off this particular duck’s back.
Visually, it’s one of Smith’s most unusual films as well, closer in tone and style to Mallrats than Tusk. Borrowing a visual language from video game culture that’s reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, no less than a dozen on-screen title cards in the 8-bit style introduce characters throughout the feature. It’s not always an easy fit, with the first act mechanically going through the motions of “youth” culture. Both the younger Depp and Harley Quinn Smith defy the nepotistic casting as likeable leads, and more than carry the material forward (even in between all the faux Canadian “aboots”). Of note is the musical composer Christopher Drake, best known for his DC Animated Universe scores and video games, carrying the gamification theme through the film.
Smith definitely deserves props for breaking out of his regular wheelhouse, and after two decades of filmmaking, still experimenting as an artist. The miniature sausage creatures are weird, but so was the poo demon in Dogma. YOGA HOSERS takes its sweet time to get going, but once it cuts loose, we get a sense of the many styles of Kevin Smith slowly coming together, and indicating where he is going as a filmmaker. Bring on Moose Jaws.