This weekend saw the release of Kevin Smith’s Copout. Copout was originally called A Couple of Dicks, but after the marketing disaster surrounding Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the studio felt a title change might be prudent on this occasion. Copout is particularly significant in Smith’s directorial career, as it is the first feature film he has made not based upon his own screenplay. It is some compliment to the writers that Smith chose this film to be his first based on someone else’s ideas. Let’s take a look at the movies that were based upon Smith’s own writing, with a short, sharp look at his career to date.
Smith funded Clerks with his own money, and it was shot for $28,000. Smith wrote what he knew, with the movie following a couple of guys working in a convenience store. Clerks mixed comic pop culture banter with Smith’s now trademark puerile humour. It also introduced several recurring characters and actors that would feature heavily in later Smith films, known as the View Askewniverse. Clerks was Smith’s calling card to Hollywood. It won several independent awards, and its success on such a limited budget set Smith on the road to a successful filmmaking career.
The follow-up to Clerks, Mallrats, was considerably less successful. A critical and commercial failure, Mallrats nonetheless introduced the world to Jason Lee as a lead actor. Also featuring Smith’s then-girlfriend Joey Lauren-Adams, and a Ben Affleck on the cusp of stardom, Mallrats served as a good rehearsal for Smith’s next movie, and holds a place as a cult hit amongst many of Smith’s fans.
Arguably Smith’s best film, Chasing Amy was the closest he has come to major critical success. Ben Affleck stars as Holden, the man chasing Joey Lauren-Adams, who plays Alyssa. Alyssa is a lesbian, and Holden falls in love with her, and subsequently tries to convert her. Jason Lee stars as Affleck’s roommate, Banky. At the heart of Chasing Amy lies an intelligently written love story, and the base humour and quirky characters typical of Smith’s work were toned down.
Next for Smith was the controversial Dogma. Having been brought up in a Catholic home, Smith had some very definite views about the Catholic church. Dogma poked fun at Catholicism, and Smith received thousands of complaints, and even death threats as a result. Smith’s regulars Affleck, Jason Mewes and Smith himself as Jay and Silent Bob, and Jason Lee were all present, joined by Linda Fiorentina, Chris Rock, Matt Damon and even Alanis Morrisette as God. Dogma achieved reasonable critical and commercial success.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was meant as the final ‘View Askewniverse’ movie, and saw the titular characters travelling to Hollywood after finding someone had made a movie about characters based on themselves, Bluntman and Chronic. All the actors who had previously worked with Smith returned. Cameos in the movie included Eliza Dushku, Star wars pair Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, and even Smith’s wife had a part. Jay and Silent Bob was a screwball comedy, which parodied movies like The Fugitive and Good Will Hunting.
Smith’s step away from the characters that had followed him through his career was his biggest failure. Romantic comedy Jersey Girl starred Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, and was in part the directors love letter to his Jersey upbringing. It was however universally panned, and along with Gigli helped put a nail into Affleck’s A-list Hollywood career.
How do you follow a big flop? Go with what you know. Smith went ‘back to the well’ and made Clerks 2. Clerks 2 caught up with Dante and Randal, the main characters from the first movie, still working at the convenience store. Also returning were Jay and Silent Bob, and a whole host of actors that had appeared in previous Smith movies. Clerks 2 was a hit, with reasonable critical and commercial success, and the filmmaker’s career appeared to be back on track.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno had been conceived in idea form a couple of years before it was made. The combination of Smith’s comedy writing and the hottest young comedy actor, Seth Rogen, in the lead led to expectations of big success from both the director and the studio. Controversy reared it’s head once again however. This time, the title of the movie caused a marketing headache. Adverts were not allowed to feature the ‘Make a Porno’ portion of the title, and Smith struggled to make the necessary cuts to reduce the rating from an NC-17 to an R. Eventually, he appealed against the rating (the third time he has been forced to take this approach), and the rating was overturned (he was also successful in both previous attempts). The marketing difficulties did however make an impact on the movie, as it had a far lower opening than expected, despite good reviews. In the end it would become the highest grossing Smith movie, but only just, and compared to movies of similar genre with a similar level of star power, it was considered a failure.
The perceived failure of Zack and Miri hit Smith hard. Disillusioned with the studio for what he saw as marketing errors, and maybe losing confidence in his own writing ability, Smith chose to do something he said he never would. A Couple of Dicks is a studio project, based upon someone else’s screenplay. Starring Bruce Willis and 30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan, it follows two cops as they live through a typical day on the job. Now called Copout, the movie is released this weekend, and it’ll be interesting to see how it opens. Willis was once guaranteed box office, but isn’t anymore. And in the last two weeks Smith has been embroiled in more controversy, this time away from cinemas, as he has railed against South West Airlines for being booted from a flight for ‘health and safety reasons’.
Whatever the fate of Copout, Smith has announced his next project will be Hit Somebody, and will star Sean William Scott, who is a supporting actor in Copout. Smith has always been a hockey fan, but recently has developed a strong affection for one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Wayne Gretzky. This project has obviously been borne out of that obsession. It’s not yet clear if it will be a straight comedy, or if Smith is looking to edge it more towards drama.
Smith has had a fairly successful career to date, though not without its ups and downs. With a solid fan base (1.5 million plus Twitter followers!) Smith is guaranteed an audience, at least for the time being.
Copout is out in cinemas in the US now, and in the UK in April.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann