Writer-director Kevin Smith describes Jay and Silent Bob Reboot as “the greatest high school reunion we never went to.” That’s as good a way as any to prepare casual viewers of Smith’s filmography for this blend of fan service (in the best way) and participatory theater.
The theater part comes from its distribution, the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow, where Smith and longtime pal Jason Mewes (the Jay to Smith’s mostly silent Bob) introduce the film and host an audience Q&A afterward. (Having recently immortalized their hands and feet in cement at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theater, the two are about 20 showings into a tour of roughly 60 stops nationwide and in Canada.) It’s a bit like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live, where the stoked audience cheers and applauds the stoner humor as much as anyone they recognize from Smith’s films and friendships. There’s Matt Damon (Ford v. Ferrari)! Chris Hemsworth (Avengers: Endgame)! Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist! Walking Dead comics creator Robert Kirkman?
The plot, such as it is, starts with Jay and Silent Bob, now expressive through smartphone emoticons, selling weed next to the Quick Stop where they hung out in Smith’s 1994 breakthrough Clerks and met as babies in 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. An arrest and courtroom appearance ensues, with Hot Tub Time Machine’s Craig Robinson as Judge Jerry N. Executioner, a sampling of the film’s cleaner wordplay. Their lawyer (Justin Long, Smith’s Tusk, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip) gets them off the hook, but he’s also unknowingly had them sign away the rights to their names because a film reboot of the Bluntman and Chronic characters that the pair inspired is on the horizon.
The two set out to stop the production in what would be a retread of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, after a detour to the mall and a visit with comics nerd Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee, Mallrats). In one of many meta moments, Brodie explains remakes and reboots to the daft pair as Hollywood changing “just enough to make you pay for the same s— all over again.” But the film finds its footing once Jay and Silent Bob reach Chicago, where Jay’s old flame Justice (Shannon Elizabeth, Swing Away) is a TV meteorologist and—surprise—the mother of the daughter he never knew he had.
Milly (Harley Quinn Smith, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Smith’s daughter in real life) has a foul mouth to rival Jay’s but more brains. Smith’s films have some wincingly bad moments as far as representation, which here gives Milly’s Muslim friend the unnecessary name of Jihad (Aparna Brielle). (Deaf actress Treshelle Edmond, of Master of None, fares better as Milly’s deaf friend Soapy, delivering a great cut-down during the climax.)
But Smith also has been progressive in films like Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Dogma in poking fun at men’s discomfort with women’s sexuality. One delight of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is watching how aghast Jay becomes at Milly’s behavior, which wouldn’t bother him if she were a guy. Harley Quinn Smith does a fine job of grounding the father-daughter storyline among the self-referential lunacy, which includes cameos of the Clerks cast—in black and white, like that film—and her dad playing an exaggeration of himself, minus his signature backward ball cap.
Aside from Jay’s teeter toward maturity, the film’s other emotional growth comes from Ben Affleck (Justice League) and Joey Lauren Adams (Grey’s Anatomy), reprising their roles as Chasing Amy’s friends and former lovers Holden and Alyssa. Alyssa is developing Chasing Amy for Netflix from a queer perspective (a nod to Smith’s critics about the film), and the two co-parent a daughter that Holden helped father for Alyssa and her girlfriend. The catching up lets Affleck, who once had a falling out with Smith, deliver the introspective monologue usually left to Silent Bob, a mix of goofy puns and warmth. Smith caps it all with footage of him bantering with his mentor and friend, late Marvel Comics writer and publisher Stan Lee, whose affection for Smith is genuine.
Smith arguably is more successful these days at being himself: a witty podcaster, host, and raconteur about pop culture. Your mileage may vary on the humor of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot during a home viewing, but in person, Smith’s charm and sincere self-deprecation shines.
“I’ve got a theory that I did die, and this is Heaven,” he said at the Tampa screening, referencing his 2018 heart attack. “They show my film to a crowded theater every night, and everyone gets every f—ing joke.”