“Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” is the final episode in director Kevin Smith’s quintology (“Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma”). The former video store clerk who parlayed the angst of a generation into low-budget box-office success and irked the Catholic League with his last film has now entered, as he puts it, into “funny country.”
Smith, though, is more of a traveler passing through than a native in this combination road-trip movie and Hollywood parody. From cameo philosophers to prophets, Jay and Silent Bob have now grown up (but not matured, rest assured) to be leading men. For those unacquainted with the shtick, Jay (Jason Mewes) is the extravagantly foul-mouthed layabout and his “hetero life partner” Bob (Smith) is the Harpo to his Groucho or Penn to his Teller. The Jersey boys don’t exactly have the same comic expansiveness, given that their station in life has largely been to be situated in front of the Quik Stop selling weed, ogling women and beating up adolescent boys.
Their mission implausible launches after convenience store manager Randal places a restraining order on them. The two uprooted ones wander into the comic book store next door to find out from clerk Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee) that the Bluntman and Chronic comic based on the twosome is about to become a film.
Jay and Silent Bob are determined to stop that, not because they’ve been deprived of their share of the profits, but to stop their characters (and therefore the duo) from being flamed any further on an Internet movie bulletin board. So in the grand tradition of the Ricardos and the Mertzes and Laverne and Shirley, the two start a cross-country journey to Tinseltown.
Starting with George Carlin, the hitchhiker who trades sexual favors for a pickup, the cameos start hurtling through the film: Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, Shannen Doherty, Carrie Fisher, Jason Biggs, Mark Hamill, Matt Damon it’s like playing one degree of Kevin Smith. Ben Affleck returns not only as cartoonist Holden (whose pursuit of a lesbian was the crux of “Chasing Amy”) but also as Affleck the actor. He manages to be carelessly bad in both roles, which makes later digs at his bad movie choices (notably “Reindeer Games”) gleefully delicious.
In one of their pickups, Jay and Silent Bob get entangled with four female animal-rights activists with a nefarious agenda. To impress good-hearted Justice (Shannon Elizabeth), they release an orangutan from a laboratory research facility and become framed as domestic terrorists. The manhunt begins, comprised literally of one man Will Ferrell as inept federal wildlife marshal Willenholly, who keeps calling the ape a monkey and mistakes it once for a small boy.
Over the years, Smith has created a common language with his faithful following. After the Berkeley sneak preview of “Jay and Silent Bob,” one woman remarked that she felt like she was on the inside of an inside joke. That comes not only from references to the past four films, but also from moments when the onscreen actors make comments such as “puerile adolescent fantasy” and pointedly break from the scene to look accusingly at the audience. That almost qualifies the film as interactive entertainment, even if the interaction is only participatory blame.
Those breaks also underscore the balance between being in on the inside joke and taking a fascinatingly weird trip into narcissism. Over the years, Smith’s motley crew has run circles around its own neuroses. Now this surprisingly mild assault on Hollywood is the ultimate mirror for the characters and the actors who play them.
Too bad Smith still hasn’t managed his undisciplined tangents. Jay and Silent Bob have become abrasive, witless but comfortably predictive pals for fans. Their unrelenting stream of expletives, penis jokes, fart references and gay jests, though, just might test those friendships. Smith more often than he should takes the easy way out: Why bother with a punch line when you can plug in a fistful of four-letter words? By his fifth film (plus bigger budgets), he should know better. Then again, he’s cranked out five movies in seven years to George Lucas’ four “Star Wars” films in 24 years, so maybe there’s hope (and a prequel) yet for his universe.