UPDATE: This editorial is based, in part, on the report Deadline ran yesterday announcing Kevin Smith’s Hit Girl: The Golden Rage of Hollywood, which included the following description of the soon-to-launch series: “The story finds the justice-seeking adolescent super-assassin storm movie sets and wage war on Hollywood predators — a story that couldn’t be any more timely.”
Smith has responded via Facebook message with the following clarification: “Despite what Mark Millar said, my Hit-Girl arc is not about Hollywood predators - it’s about the making of a Hit-Girl movie. There are no jokes about the Me Too movement (obviously) or even references to real world horror stories.” Additionally, Smith has clarified that there was no Cop Out wrap party and that a tweet previously mentioned in this article was, in fact, written by his wife. This article has been edited to remove the quote attributed to the Cop Out wrap party, the tweet in question, and any reference to a pertinent connection between Smith and Harvey Weinstein.
Like many '90s refugees, I grew up loving Smith, thanks to watching Clerks on VHS. At the time, the film felt weird and radical; this lo-fi anti-narrative, where two slackers spit hot fire about comic books and Star Wars at one another while lamenting the fact that they even had to show up to work. As The Kids™ like to Tweet nowadays: I felt "seen". For a young goofball who grew up devouring Stephen King novels, comic books, issues of Fangoria, and tapes of Lucas' Original Trilogy, Clerks was distinctly a movie "made for me".
I was never a fan of Mallrats, but Chasing Amy – the now all too #problematic Criterion Collection addition that revolved around a comic book artist (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a lesbian (forever crush Joey Lauren Adams) – was another filmic lightning bolt. The killer dialogue was back, but it also felt like Smith was maturing; analyzing the complex sexual dynamics between men and women in a slightly less juvenile fashion than simply having his alter ego Silent Bob moralistically intone, "you know, there's a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you lasagna at work. Most of 'em just cheat on you."
1999's Dogma saw Smith continuing to try and grow, clumsily taking on religion – and the inherent hypocrisy that exists within those institutions – and creating a shitstorm of controversy in the process. My love for the irreverent New Jersey writer/director probably peaked with 2001's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which – despite being undeniably astonishing in how many dick and fart gags (not to mention wanton profanity) it packed per minute – nevertheless felt somewhat "off". It made me laugh plenty, yet it appeared as if Smith was regressing somewhat; falling too deeply in love the "View Askewniverse" he'd shaped with his Red Bank homies. However, looking back on this pre-9/11 comedy, it's debatably the last time that Smith played so utterly fast and loose, crafting a hang-out movie where you knew everyone involved was content to just show up to set and riff with their buddies.
To be fair, Smith's lack of maturation isn't entirely his fault. His most personal project of the mid-aughts – the romantic comedy ode to fatherhood, Jersey Girl – was pretty roundly rejected at the American box office (domestically grossing $25 million on a meager budget of $35 mil). So, it made sense that the writer/director would return to familiar stomping grounds immediately after, making an impressively polished sequel (there's even a musical number!) to Clerks in 2006. Then came Zack and Miri Make A Porno, which saw him crossing streams with the burgeoning Judd Apatow comedic empire a mere year after Seth Rogen became a household name in Knocked Up. As far as career choices go, they seemed 100% correct on paper, yet both of these movies still struggled to completely break out in terms of ticket sales (Clerks II benefitting from its very small budget, and Miri doing decently thanks to its newly minted stars). In short, it seemed like Smith was always going to be a "cult" filmmaker, playing to the rather fervent fanbase he'd accumulated over almost fifteen years as a veritable cottage industry.
Cop Out is the movie that broke Kevin Smith. The 2010 buddy comedy should've been a massive stepping stone in terms of studio work for the writer/director, but the stories that came out of that set – with star Bruce Willis being a consummate grump and questioning Smith's competence at practically every turn – were legendarily nightmarish, even by Hollywood standards. Smith himself has gone on record with such incendiary quotes about the experience as:
“Put it this way, remember the really funny guy in the movie? It ain’t him. He’s a fucking dream. Tracy Morgan, I would lay down in traffic for. Were it not for Tracy, I might’ve killed myself or someone else in the making of that movie.”
Cop Out sucks, but – given all the problems Smith endured during production – it would've been an excusable folly had he just moved on and attacked his next picture with gusto. We all fuck up, and there's almost zero filmmaking resumes without at least one blemish (hell, look at the back half of Terrence Malick's storied career and debate the merits of those entries amongst yourselves). Yet Smith felt the need to publicly double down and slam the writers who penned negative reviews of Cop Out, saying:
"From now on, any flick I'm ever involved with, I conduct screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free. Why's their opinion more valid? It's a backwards system. People are free to talk shit about any of my flicks, so long as they paid to see it."
Beyond being a dumb argument (does he only trust dining reviews on Yelp now, too?), these online rants seemed to crystallize what my problem had been with Smith’s work throughout his career (and what makes his movies tough to revisit as I got older). These were the actions of a petulant child, not an artist to be revered. The great filmmakers of our time roll with the punches – Brian De Palma's been notoriously candid in this regard – as they come of age and recognize that they're just as fallible in their work as anyone else. Take my personal profession out of it, but the attitudes and sense of humor in Cop Out are no different than those presented in Clerks, they're merely packaged inside a sanitized Warner Bros. sheen of mall crowd commercialism. As a viewer, I was a different person in 2010 than I was in 1994, but Smith was still the same old talented slacker, mad that his shtick didn't translate once removed from the independent creative sandbox he'd built for himself.
When Smith's career turned into a horror show, it logically tracked that he'd start making horror movies, beginning with the politically charged Red State in 2011. When that picture dropped at the Sundance Film Fest – the same gala that anointed Smith an emerging voice of his generation – the artist raised another ruckus via a fake auction for buyers to bid on the movie out in the open. It was all a hoax, of course; Smith's pointed attempt to not only mock Fred Phelps’ awful Westboro Baptist Church, but also provide "transparency" into the indie film buying process he'd deemed "broken". At the auction, Smith’s longtime producer Jon Gordon opened the bidding with $20, and Smith closed the sale, before offering a pseudo-apology to the distribution agents who'd taken time out of their busy schedules to try and do business with the huckster:
“I’m not that sorry. No hard feelings. Next time maybe we’ll– fuck it, we’ll never sell you the movie. You guys make a lot of [movie] trailers; you guys have lied to me many times. You know what I mean? I’ve seen many trailers where I think, ‘This is awesome!’ I put my money down and I’m like, ‘You fuckin’ lying whores!'”
Unfortunately, Smith's acidic behavior bled into his work with Tusk, which began as a joke on one of his popular SModcasts – a bit that's included over the end credits – that felt like him simply making a bad movie at the expense of folks who've supported him his entire career. It was a mean-spirited, 90-minute gag (complete with an atrocious Johnny Depp performance), followed by the equally unwatchable Yoga Hosers (where Depp again appeared as Guy Lapointe). Suddenly, Smith was even making the "paying customers" he'd upheld in 2010 as being the voices of true tastemakers suffer through feature-length larks, just because he could. Beyond bad filmmaking, that's just bad business. If your entire economy is driven by the precious fan dollar, why punish them along the way?
Thankfully, Smith also launched a simultaneous comic and book writing career, which has included page-driven expansions of his own mythology – with Silent Bob Speaks and Chasing Dogma – along with several entries into popular existing funny book franchises (often within the DC Universe, though his Marvel Daredevil run is also spectacular). This led to Smith helming episodes of Supergirl and The Flash, which fans of both shows have held up as solid hours of television. So, it's tough to completely knock his constantly enterprising nature – hell, you could easily say the Clerks animated series might be as good as the movies – as he's always working, always producing, even if the maturity of his output plateaued long ago.
Which brings us to the latest entry into Smith's body of work: his upcoming collaboration with Mark Millar for a Hit-Girl series, which will see Big Daddy's little girl hunting the sexually predatory men of Hollywood. Titled The Golden Rage of Hollywood, this new arc revolves around:
"...the justice-seeking adolescent super-assassin storm movie sets and wage war on Hollywood predators — a story that couldn’t be any more timely. The title is set to launch in January 2019. The new series will feature some familiar faces from the original Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl series by [Mark] Millar and John Romita Jr., and each issue is a tribute to a different era of American cinema."
Now, this all sounds well and fine – and frankly, the sort of provocative pop art I'd love to see emerging in the wake of a national crisis and social movement – but it's still easy to wonder if Smith is the right guy to tackle Hollywood predators. Take the fact that he's a straight white dude who's probably never had to deal with the sort of sexual harassment and assault the #metoo movement is fighting against out of the equation, and you're still stuck with a scribe who, again, hasn't really evolved beyond dick and fart jokes. Sure, there's some solid storytelling on display in his previous comic book runs and television episodes, but nothing that hints at the sort of nuance that should be utilized when approaching this rather delicate subject matter. When combined with Millar's rather upsetting use of rape as a plot motivator – he’s gone on record as saying "I don't really think it matters" – and you've got a perfect pair of custom tailored Bad Idea Jeans.
Then again – who knows? Maybe this is the moment where Smith truly grows up and – in the wake of his life-threatening heart attack – attempts to make an important social statement via his art, instead of just transforming a ton of real world pain that women have endured into a slice of pen and ink tomfoolery. Were I to put money on it, it'd still be on the latter being the end product of this endeavor. Nevertheless, it's tough not to still pull for Smith somewhat, as his legacy has been one of the more complicated in the history of pop culture: a noted scrapper turned antagonist whose defenders are rabid, but maybe not for the best reasons.