AMUSING CREDITS at the beginning of Kevin Smith's "Dogma" beg movie critics not to take his movie too seriously. After all, he's just trying to have fun.
I accept the challenge.
Which is why I shall not inform you that "Dogma" is comically uneven. Nor will I declare that the movie simply demonstrates the limitations of Smith's vision and humorous abilities, rather than any satirical prowess. I simply won't do it.
I would consider it negative to point out that, in order to have a completely rollicking time, you're going to have to laugh at a creature who shoots pounds of flying excrement into the air. And it would be simply picayune of me to point out that this creature (whose name I cannot mention in a family newspaper) bears zero connection to the story.
Nope. My lips are sealed.
So without further ado, let's get on with the good news. "Dogma" is Smith's irreverent riff on Catholicism. Well, let's say, certain aspects of Catholicism. The filmmaker of "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy" takes that whole Lucifer-fall-from-grace thing and turns it into an earthbound, tongue-in-cheek comic fantasy.
A sampling of the players: Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) from "Clerks"; fallen angels Loki and Bartleby (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck); the tough-minded Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), who works at an abortion clinic; a 13th apostle (Chris Rock); and, uh, God. Yes, the Supreme Being gets a part, and I won't spoil anything by disclosing the actor's identity. Let's just say it isn't George Burns. And why would you assume God's a man, anyway?
When Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) dedicates a new church in (where else?) New Jersey, it sets the stage for a major good-and-evil tussle. The end of the world is at stake. Those fallen angels figure, if they enter the church the second it's hallowed, they'll reverse God's original decree and enter heaven. This will make God look imperfect, which will render existence into nothingness. Obviously, Loki and Bartleby -- who have been languishing in the state of Wisconsin all this time -- must be stopped.
There's more commentary I am duty-bound not to divulge. After all, I am part of the solution, not the problem. So just because Smith has a heavy hand when it comes to satire, and cannot leave crudity alone, doesn't mean I'm going to make a big deal about it. I've always liked Mewes's dirt-mouthed character Jay from "Clerks." But I'm not going to mention that he goes way overboard -- even by his standards.
And wild horses couldn't make me admit that I did not find Rock's Rufus the 13th Apostle -- who literally drops from heaven naked -- at all funny. Nor do I question the movie's disingenuous move of demanding kid-glove treatment for its non-pretentiousness, only to make its characters address weighty matters in seemingly casual ways.
"I have issues with anyone who treats faith as a burden instead of a blessing," says one, in one of the movie's thoughtful moments. That sounds like something we could all get behind, but only if we were allowed to take things seriously.
DOGMA (R, 125 minutes) -- Contains relentless obscenity, profanity and gross material. Also nudity. Area theaters.