Chasing Amy
reviewed by Dave Gerardi

***1/2 out of four

On writer-director Kevin Smith’s third try, he finally has a film with a STORY. "Clerks," Mr. Smith’s hilarious and offbeat no-budget debut consisted solely of loosely connected, albeit achingly funny, segments. His second effort, "Mallrats," was infantile and contrived. "Chasing Amy," however, is a heart-rendingly personal, often outrageously clever Film, capital ‘F’.

Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) write a comic book, "Buttman and Chronic." Their longtime, seemingly unbreakable friendship is threatened when Holden meets Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). Holden falls madly in love, and everything would be fairly straightforward were it not for the fact that Alyssa is a lesbian.

Interspersed amongst large volleys of honest dialogue, Holden and Alyssa become coupled, and Banky is forced into action by digging up dirt about Alyssa’s promiscuous past. Here is where Mr. Smith’s screenplay shines its brightest. Banky is not a grotesque stereotype of a jealous, spiteful, former best friend; he loves Holden, not in a homosexual way, but deep enough that Alyssa’s presence threatens that love. Holden is then confronted with, not only Banky and Alyssa’s mutually exclusive love, but his own feelings of inadequacy when he learns about Alyssa’s past. "Chasing Amy" is not the prototypical Kevin Smith flick one might expect. Yes, there are numerous references to "the holy trilogy," "Star Wars." Yes, we are again treated to Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). And yes, there are oddball theories (posit: Archie and Jughead were homosexual lovers). But where, in "Clerks," these patches of dialogue WERE the movie, "Chasing Amy" brackets them with a story.

The acting, Ms Adams’ in particular, is well above par. Holden and Alyssa’s love is not the icy, frostbitten affair we were drubbed over the head with in "The English Patient." These are human beings, not privileged sons and daughters of industry. The synthesis resolving Ms Adams’ performance and Mr. Smith’s lines in her two ‘big’ scenes touched even my cynical, pessimistic core. Ben Affleck is perhaps too competent as Holden and comes off so normal that he is overshadowed by Ms Adams and Jason Lee. Mr. Lee, it should be noted, is a brilliant comedic talent with flawless timing and a wonderful command of his delivery. His performance was the lone bright spot in "Mallrats," and, although he plays a similar role in "Chasing Amy," he does it so well that it is hard to care.

The treats of this movie are its sexually bent spoof of the "I can top THAT injury" scene from "Jaws," and Silent Bob’s largest stretch of dialogue of the "New Jersey Trilogy" (topped off with, of course, the lesson of the day). The cherry on top of the sugar is the emotion of the story. It is not sentimental, nor mushy. And this is a good thing. Characters react to each other not in coy or overtly hidden phrases, but with melancholy and failed attempts at empathy. If the film has any faults, it is that it is very talky, excessively so, to the point that Kevin Smith has yet to demonstrate any aptitude as a visual stylist. Moreover, the occasional references to the previous films are completely unnecessary. "Chasing Amy" stands better on its own and certainly does not need "Clerks" and "Mallrats" as crutches. Lastly, the method Mr. Smith has the Holden character employ when confronting both Alyssa and Banky is so outrageous in tone and so much of a departure from the otherwise realist milieu of the previous ninety minutes that one wonders if he could not have written something a bit more appropriate.

Hollywood gossip abound, Mr. Smith is rumored to be working on scripts for a "Six-Million Dollar Man" movie and the next "Superman" flick. One has to hope that Mr. Smith will not delve too deeply in cartoonish fluff to prevent him from writing in the style he seems most apt--humorous, emotional, and character-driven STORIES. Jerry Bruckheimer will give us more forgettable, action-laden, star-studded theatrical dross than we could ever ask for, but films like "Chasing Amy" are all too rare and all too memorable.

Dave may be reached at slate@admin.nyit.edu