On self-serving jokes, the repetitive comedic value of Canadian accents, and the embarrassing career regression of Kevin Smith
Yoga Hosers Invincible Pictures
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Starring: Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Justin Long, Ralph Garman, Adam Brody and Haley Joel Osment
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 28 minutes / 2.35:1
Limited release / VOD
(out of four)
For the second time in a row, the most revealing moment of a Kevin Smith movie comes over the soundtrack of the closing credits. For the second time in a row, that moment is a snippet from an episode of Smith's podcast (SModcast), and it involves him and his co-host giggling hysterically at their own jokes. (It's fitting that the most important information in a Kevin Smith movie would be imparted non-visually, but that's just me being bitchy.) The first time, in Tusk, it was at least a full-fledged conversation, as we listened in on the actual point-by-point genesis of the movie we'd just seen. This time, for Yoga Hosers - the second part of a proposed trilogy - the snippet is made up almost entirely of their own heaves of laughter at whatever it is they were (presumably) having a conversation about. We get enough to know it once again has something to do with the movie in question, but its relevance is mostly buried in those contextless howls.
It's all very self-satisfied and self-congratulatory - harmlessly so, but in a way that makes moviemaking seem like a casual goof rather than a creative endeavor, made by people who have forgotten how to communicate with anyone but themselves. The sound of Smith doubled over in laughter for no discernible reason is basically Yoga Hosers in microcosm. Its comedy has no business being in front of an audience, no business being referred to as professional storytelling, let alone professional comedy. But in his narrow realm of self-serving esoterica, surely it must be hysterical. I'm counting on that to be true, otherwise I have no idea why he would waste his or anyone else's time making what is, at least at its worst, one of the most aggressively hacky comedies I've ever seen.
That he amused himself and made his friends laugh during the making of the movie, I have no doubt. (Hell, he gave us the audio to prove it.) Then again, I laugh when one of my friends farts (and vice versa), and so do you. Doesn't mean I'd find a feature-length version of all of us farting to be a worthwhile endeavor. But there seems to be more to Yoga Hosers' complete disconnect from even the simplest standards than simply a reliance on inside jokes or a disregard for its audience or its (and Smith's) critics. Smith is, for all intents and purposes, a professional comedian ... and yet here he's fashioned an entire movie around the pointed observation that ... Canadians talk funny? That seems to be the guiding principle of the film. He tasks his entire cast with affecting cartoonish Canadian accents, with particularly hard emphasis on every delivery of words like "out" or "about." (Did you know that in Canada they pronounce it "abOOt"? It's true!!) It doesn't even work as an affectionately tongue-in-cheek evocation of the region; no, Smith has just resorted to pointing at things, as if to say "This is funny, right?," and then pointing at that same thing over and over again. Give or take a few dozen, he essentially makes the exact same joke about 100 times.
For good measure, he tosses in an "eh" joke every few minutes (like a cereal called "Cheeri-Eh's," HAHAHAHAHA) - because I'm not sure if you know this or not, but "Eh" is an interjection common to Canadian vernacular. These are the jokes, people. This is what Kevin Smith is offering you in Yoga Hosers. (This may be the only movie entirely based on the presence of a regional accent, with the exception of every movie ever set in Boston.)
This is not the movie a professional comedy writer presents to the world. This is the movie made by someone who has only just discovered what comedy is, and is taking his first stab at it. This is someone scraping the very bottom of the comedy barrel. You want to see what's on the bottom? Nazis. Smith's secondary idea for hilarious comedy is to revolve a subplot around Canadian Nazis. Both the full-grown kind and the miniature kind, which are made out of Bratwurst (get it? because that's a famous German food?) and referred to as ... sigh ... Bratzis. The Bratzis like to launch themselves up people's butts.
These. Are. The. Jokes.
Oh, and also there are teenage Satanists involved, because one desperately lazy reference point for evil isn't quite enough.
All of this and I haven't even mentioned the actual leads of the movie - the Colleens, introduced in Tusk as the surly teenage cashiers at the Eh-2-Zed convenience store (hey look, another "Eh" reference), this time taking center stage in their own story. The Colleens - played by real-life friends Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith (Johnny and Kevin's daughters, respectively) - have a likeable, easy camaraderie that would be put to better use in virtually any other context. (They unfortunately have to share the plot with Johnny Depp's worst-ever character, the bumbling, "quirky" French-Canadian detective Guy Lapointe, also introduced in Tusk.)
Beyond that, there's really nothing else to the movie. The Colleens, Lapointe, the Nazis, the Canadian accents. Smith's only other idea is to incorporate social media, introducing each character with a sort of player card full of "youthful" lingo and snippets from social-media posts. Like everything else in the movie, this is disconnected from any kind of aesthetic purpose - it's just throwing shit at a wall. And it's just as desperate as everything else, too. Smith is basically that middle-aged guy who knows he's not hip, so he overcompensates for this by "ironically" putting on youthful airs and having his adult characters take grumpy-old-man positions like, "You damn kids with your phones and your Facebooking and your Twitter." These are the jokes.
In the interest of fairness, I'll take a moment to highlight the few things the film has going for it. For starters, Lily-Rose Depp seems like a natural. She has an electric presence, injecting the film with a fresh personality it's severely lacking elsewhere. I also liked the appearance of the hockey golem (exactly what it sounds like), which recalls the deranged goofiness of Smith's earlier work like Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Particularly in recent years, Smith has had a notoriously contentious relationship with critics (an element that comes into play, in weakly meta style, a few times during the film). Not that he's reading this, but I have no interest in piling on with someone whose film seems almost impervious to criticism; it's just too far removed from anything you could call cinematic value. My honest reaction is that I just feel sorry for him at this point, and feel bad for crapping on this lousy but irrelevant movie. Smith was never much of a filmmaker, but he had his moments, and at the very least he fundamentally understood comedy and how he wanted his comedy to work, even if I was only fond of it in fits and starts. But the Smith we see here? It's like he's suffering from some sort of regression. Comedy dementia, perhaps. Yoga Hosers isn't simply bad; it's pathetic and sad and it deserves our pity.