What the Hell happened to Kevin Smith?
I’m sorry. I’ve tried to find a better, more diplomatic way to sum up my initial reaction to this movie several times now. I’ve gone over numerous drafts of this for review, and really, that is the question I keep coming back to the more I think about this.
With that said, this movie just ups the ante on that question to a whole new level. Even for the lowered expectations of latter-day Smith films, this is a surprising bottom out, and one that actually has me a lot more forgiving of its immediate predecessors in hindsight.
(And for those wondering why this is only getting reviewed now, I figured with Thanksgiving coming up this week, what better way to start things off than with an early slice of turkey?)
As the second part of Smith’s promised ‘Canada’ trilogy, Yoga Hosers picks up directly in the ‘Canada’ depicted in his prior film, Tusk. There’s a reason I’m putting ‘Canada’ in quotations here – the vision of the Great White North as depicted in this and the prior film is of a world so utterly detached from reality and steeped in the broadest of the broad stereotypes that it manages to make the depictions of the country featured on South Park look culturally informed and nuanced.
Put a pin in that, because we’ll come back to it later.
This time around, Smith turns the camera to two supporting characters from the previous movie, the two Colleens (played by Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith…any time I start to consider spinning this into a nepotism joke, it soon spirals into a question of if this is a form of child abuse or not, so I’ll just bite my tongue and move on.) Their store mildly famous for its tangential involvement in the events of the previous film, the two alternate between living out a Clerks Goes to Canada existence and a yoga studio (run by Justin Long, trading out his prior walrus suit for a character that feels like a hand-me-down of Mike Myers’s Love Guru persona).
This all changes during a fateful party the two girls try holding at their job. What follows is a pretzel of a story involving teenage Satanists, a defunct Canadian Nazi party, a mad scientist with an overpowering love of impressions, and an army of half-human, half-bratwurst Nazi clones.
Honestly, even if I just summarize it for you it’s not gonna make much more sense.
Also, Depp’s Guy LaPointe is back…not much else I can add there, save that at least this time around he doesn’t stop the movie for a protracted flashback. Granted, Depp’s slow, rambling portrayal still causes the film to slow down any time he’s on-screen, so I can only give it just so much here.
This movie manages one rather impressive contradiction for itself – on the one hand, its plot is incredibly outlandish. At the time I was watching, I kept getting the feeling that Smith cribbed the outline from Troma studios, possibly without asking Lloyd Kaufman’s permission first – though at the same time, I honestly feel like, if this were in Troma’s hands, it would probably work better simply thanks to their all-around enthusiasm that comes with tackling utter cinematic insanity. The film would still be pants-crappingly mad, but it would be spirited in its madness.
Meanwhile, despite the outlandish premise, this finished movie feels incredibly lazy and uncreative. Take the depiction of Canada I mentioned above, for example – it is basically a world comprised almost exclusively of bargain bin Canada jokes. Within the first ten minutes, we have hockey jokes, the use of ‘Sorry aboot that’ and a character repeatedly ending statements in ‘Eh?’ These are the kinds of jokes that Bob and Doug MacKenzie hung up years ago because they realized there was no more tread on the tires. And this movie isn’t even trying to riff on the stereotypes or turn them on their ear (which, to its credit, Tusk sort of seemed to be doing just by virtue of showing it through Justin Long’s American character and making him seem like a judgmental jerk along with it), here it’s just played as the world this all takes place in.
The cast don’t make out that much better here either. If I had to give this movie ANY sort of praise, it’s the fact that Lily-Rose and Harley (using their first names to differentiate from their fathers in this case) actually manage to come out of this looking at least kind of capable considering the absolute non-characters they’ve been saddled with. Really, their entire character can be summed up as two friends who do yoga and are otherwise the walking personification of every dad joke you’ve ever heard about kids and their phones.
The one scene they have remotely resembling any sort of character development being a scene where the two perform a duet of Styx’s ‘Babe’, a scene that feels like it was meant to set up some sort of future testing of their friendship (or some family tie given Hale’s explanation of the song’s significance) only to have the scene amount to nothing, save making the audience start to wonder what Smith may be implying about the degree of their connection.
And they’re still more clearly defined than anyone else in this cast (which includes some rather shameful squandering of the likes of Natasha Lyonne, Haley Joel Osment, and Tony Hale among others), which is saying something right there.
I’m trying to come up with something else good I can give this besides the efforts of the two leads to make the most of the non-material, but I’m gonna be honest – I’m having a REALLY hard time with it. This might honestly be the nadir of Kevin Smith’s filmography. I may not have been particularly taken with Red State or Tusk, but the former was at least ambitious (if misguided) and the latter still had some good set work and some well directed sequences – and both featured great performances by Michael Parks, whose absence on this project is felt in a big way.
I want to believe he’s still got it in him to make the come back. I want to believe the man who was once hailed as a fresh new comedic voice of the indie film scene is still in their somewhere under all the pot and stale, tired jokes. But hearing the podcast excerpt of him at the end of this surprisingly grueling 90 minutes, I just don’t know any more.
Kevin, if you’re still in there, please prove me wrong.
-Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith making the most of what little they have to work with
-On paper the supporting cast is a great spread
-The Goalie Golem is an alright design?
-Yikes, the threadbare Canada and ‘teens and phone’ jokes are all over this movie
-The hard left plot twists and lack of logical follow-through lends credence to theories that Smith’s overdoing the weed
-The cast feel less like characters, more like vessels for the stale humor
(…I’m really not trying to be hyperbolic with this score. But damn, I had an easier time finding good things to say for the Star Wars Holiday Special over this!)