When Kevin Smith introduced his latest film, Yoga Hosers, at the Sundance Film Festival Sunday night, he got a little nostalgic. Sundance, of course, was the place that launched his career in 1994 with the debut of Clerks, and where he returned with what’s arguably his strongest film, Chasing Amy, three years later. His brand of raunchy indie comedy wouldn’t exist without the nurturing presence of Sundance, Smith said — and he’s probably right.
But Sundance is also the place where he took the stage after a screening of Red State in 2011, and told a theater full of acquisitions executives that he wasn’t willing to sell the movie to them — that he was going to put it out himself. Like a lot of things Kevin Smith tries, that strategy didn’t stick (Tusk was put out by A24), but it’s an even more relevant landmark because Red State is when Smith decided to stop playing ball. After having crashed and burned with studio movies like Cop Out — and having built up a reliable fanbase through his podcast network — Smith decided to stop making movies that would even attempt to have mass appeal, and instead just focus on weird, quirky things that amused him and his fans.
It’s when Kevin Smith stopped giving a shit, and Yoga Hosers is proof that he now cares less than ever before.
This is the era of stoner Kevin Smith
Yoga Hosers is actually a spinoff of Tusk, focusing on the two convenience store clerks Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Melody Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) that appeared briefly in the original film. Yes, they’re the daughters of Johnny Depp and Kevin Smith, and the movie opens with the high schoolers performing a rendition of Anthrax’s "I’m the Man" with their makeshift band. (The name "Glamthrax" appears as a logo, which I’d argue is probably the most clever moment in the film). Colleen C. and Colleen M., as they’re called, work at a Canadian store called Eh-2-Zed — it’s a Kevin Smith movie set in Canada, so there are a lot of obvious Canada gags and an overuse of "eh" — when they get invited to a party by a pair of seniors. Going to a senior party is the coolest thing possible, but the Colleens find themselves faced with a number of different obstacles along the way — including Satanists, long-lost Canadian fascists, and an army of talking Nazi bratwursts with a thirst for blood.
This is probably as good a time as any to point out that this new Kevin Smith era is the stoner Kevin Smith era. The writer-director started a passionate love affair with weed after working with Seth Rogen on Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and has espoused its creative benefits every since, but Yoga Hosers is filled with so much random, crazy nonsense that it serves as a counterpoint for all his evangelizing. It’s not just that the film isn’t very tight or polished — he’s never been a very accomplished filmmaker visually, and floating along on a cloud of extraneous wordplay has always been a Smith trademark — but Yoga Hosers is nearly devoid of plot or basic cause and effect. It’s just an unfolding series of events that are unified only by their complete and utter randomness.
Lack of coherence doesn’t make the film joyless, however, and Smith does give his actors a stage to shine on. Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp are remarkably charismatic, with Smith herself as the real standout. Justin Long has fun as a yogi with anger management issues (though the gag gets old long before Smith realizes he should cut away). Johnny Depp also has a sizable presence in the film, playing the inspector the Colleens met in Tusk, and he’s utterly relaxed and funny as he chews scenery. He’s buried behind a mountain of makeup and prosthetics, of course, but here he seems to be playing with it — magically moving moles on the character’s face from shot to shot — seemingly aware that his reliance on makeup has become a criticism at this point. The Johnny Depp that shows up in Yoga Hosers is the same Johnny Depp that showed up at the end of the 21 Jump Street movie, and I hope we continue to see more of this lighthearted spirit in coming years.
Johnny Depp is the movie's secret highlight
But even those highlights don’t help the film when it collapses into a shambling mix of monster movie clichés, impressions by Smith’s podcast cohort Ralph Garman, and terrible visual effects (the Nazi bratwurst, played by Smith, is the worst piece of CGI I’ve seen in more than a decade; probably more). But that’s the trick with this new era of Kevin Smith; by stating from the start that he’s not bothering to please anyone but himself, he renders himself — and his films — immune from criticism. On one hand, I certainly admire it. He gives himself total creative freedom, unburdens himself from the weight of critique, and is able to have fun making the things he feels like making. Don’t get mad if the movie’s not good, goes the argument; he wasn’t trying to make a good movie anyway!
And as long as Smith has a loyal audience waiting to see his next project, everything works out just fine. (The Colleens will be returning in Smith’s next Canada-set film, simply titled Moose Jaws.) But it’s also hard not to be a little bummed out at how his career has evolved. Clerks was the debut of a edgy, comic indie voice. Chasing Amy demonstrated that the guy behind those jokes actually had a sentimental heart and romantic worldview he was trying to express. Dogma was a confused young Catholic actively trying to reconcile his faith. Today’s Kevin Smith is a guy that doesn’t seem to be pushing himself or trying to stretch at all. He’s a filmmaker who has decided "good enough" is good enough, and that’s a shame. Not because his bizarre, new quirky films won’t bring joy to those that love them — but because he used to seem capable of so much more.