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Ranked: Kevin Smith Movies from Worst to Best
With Red State out this week, we take a look back at the man who made New Jersey famous (no, not Frank Sinatra).
By Simon Abrams
Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith represents an integral part of the American independent film scene of the ‘90s. His brand of eloquent, working-class slacker quickly became an archetype unto itself, and though the quality of his films varies wildly, he’s nothing if not consistent when it comes to style and tone. For your consideration, we submit this list of his films, from worst to best.
10. Cop Out (2010)
Not nearly as bad as everybody seemed to think when it came out, Cop Out is sometimes charming. No, seriously! The chemistry between Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan intermittently generates results. And we can all agree that Seann William Scott is funny, right? Right? Look, I tried, okay?
9. Jersey Girl (2004)
Smith's penultimate Jersey-set film is pretty bland. Liv Tyler's spunky, sexually liberated grad student is grating, though the thought of hearing Ben Affleck perform songs from Sweeney Todd is funny. Ultimately, though, Jersey Girl is just too maudlin, too saccharine, and not interesting enough. When not even George Carlin can elevate your film beyond a Lifetime movie with dick jokes, you know you’re in trouble.
8. Mallrats (1995)
Granted, Mallrats is inept, but in an amiable and endearing way. It also plays like a teenage boy’s fantasy of what romance is like (you play video games, read comics, act like a smartass, and still wind up getting the hot chick). This is the first of Smith’s safety-net projects, a no-stakes comedy that he felt he could handle after Clerks made him look like the next big thing. Stan Lee’s cameo and the recurring jokes about Silent Bob peeping on Joey Lauren Adams prove that in spite of diarrheic dialogue and amateurish performances (I’m looking at you, Jeremy London), Smith's duds could still be entertaining.
7. Red State (2011)
This is the most ambitious of Smith’s post-View Askew films and, while it’s too rambling to be totally successful, it’s pretty exciting to see Smith trying so hard to pull the rug out from under his audience. Though Melissa Leo comes on stronger than she does in The Fighter (and that's saying a lot), Michael Parks’ performance as a psychopathic fundamentalist is pretty spot-on. Smith’s satire of fundamentalism falls flat, but the church scenes in the film are unsettling enough, and the last minute not-really-a-twist is pretty fun. The rest of the film is tense, but doesn’t really make the impact it strives to.
6. Dogma (1999)
The stilted and crude expository dialogue nearly wrecks Smith's religious farce. It also lurches all over the place tonally. (According to Smith, this is because he made some major changes to the film after seeing Pulp Fiction and being deeply impressed by the way that film shifts moods from scene to scene as well as it does. But Smith, of course, is no Quentin Tarantino.) Still, while it’s easy to shrug your shoulders at the Shit Demon and snicker at Chris Rock’s schtick as Christ’s 13th apostle, the cast makes Dogma a lot better than it has any right to be. Ultimately, it’s a more ambitious film than most of his other work, which makes it a worthwhile entry to his canon.