Newsday - John Anderson

Jeadline: Suburban Days of Whine and Poses
by John ANderson (Staff Writer, newsday)

Kevin Smith's "Clerks" was one of the funier films of recent years, because his dialogue was so abitiously offensive. In fact, the movie might have been a radio play, given it's visual economy and budgetary, shall we say, limitations. In his new film "Chasing Amy," a romance-cum-therapy session, Smith spends more moeny and gets a lot more serious - not so much that the humor is completely evaporated, but the jokes are secondary to the autopsy he performs on the heterosexual male mind. It's a messy business, full of sloppy swinging and erratic gestures. But the corpus is a singular specimen, whose like is seldom seen on screen. New Jerseyites Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) draw an underground comic book called Bluntman and Chronic - based on the "Clerks" characters Silent Bob (Smith) and the pot-pushing Jay (Jason Mewes). Told by a fan at a comics convention that is characters are like "Bill and Ted meet . . . Cheech and Chong!!!" Holden responds, "I think of them more as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern meet Vladimir and Estragon." You could cut the pretension with a knife. But generally, Holden and Banky are regular members of the beer-and-whine set who obsess on sex, or lack thereof, and lead limited suburban existences. Enlightenment arrives via Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), who lights a fire under Holden and sets Banky's teeth on edge. When she turns out to be a lesbian, Holden is stunned. Banky is elated. What's going on here? It seems to be Smith's examination of sex, lies, true love, and himself. Holden and Alyssa become close friends, discussing in clinical depth the mechanics of hetero-, homo-, and idealized loce. But for Holden it's not enough: He professes his love for Alyssa (while thunder actually crashes), asking her to renounce the sisterhood and jump into his bed. She becomes enraged at his insensitivity. But she sleeps with him anyway. Which makes Banky crazy. What's going on here, part two? Banky, we presume, has an unconfrontable attraction for Holden, hates Alyssa for stealing his heart, and sets out to sabotage their affair - which he does by uncovering some unsavory episodes in Alyssa's heterosexual past, with which Holden cannot deal. Much about "Chasing Amy" simply doesn't work: It assumes that it reaches a level of hilarity it seldom acheives; its characters laugh too hard and too often. The dialogue is anatomically obsessed without a lot of substance; the speeches Adams has to deliver sound like they came off a poster of a sunset, or some inspirational speaker on a PBS fund-rasier. But what's fascinating is the triangulated construct of his characters - Banky the repressed, Holden the explorer and Smith himself, whoas Silent Bob delivers the story behind the title and offers Holden some wisdom about love. it's as if the director had done a psychological autpsy on himself. As such, a lot of "Chasing Amy" is forced and unfunny, but a lot of it is like something you've never seen. [End of review; transcribed by sean Richardson]