One Hit Wonder: Kevin Smith


Last time in this series we looked at documentary film maker Morgan Spurlock, with the judgement and public votes both declaring him a one hit wonder. Now we aim for a (ahem) bigger target: Kevin Smith.

Who is He?

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Kevin Smith emerged in the 1990s as something of a hero in the indie film world. He sold his comic collection and filmed a movie in the  store in which he worked, producing the smash hit Clerks. he has maintained a steady career in making movies, writing comics (although he could be the worst person at meeting deadlines the comic industry has ever seen – planning on finishing that Batman trilogy any time soon?) and running a series of podcasts about geekery and show business in general.

The Hit

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‘Clerks’

Clerks was in every way a student film. Cast with friends, filmed on borrowed equipment and funded out of pocket. It’s no great shakes to look at but the risque humour, relatable characters and fantastic dialogue made it a cult hit that grew to widespread success. Smith became the voice for disaffected twenty-somethings living directionless lives, and the movie is still heavily referenced and quoted today.

The Follow-Up

Not long after the general release of Clerks did we see Mallrats. Whilst the comedy had plenty of fans it certainly didn’t break any new ground for the director, essentially being a retread of the ideas presented in Clerks but with less taboo based humour, more stunt scenes and celebrity cameos. Suddenly the shining light of indie film was shown through a studio filter. Chasing Amy got back to the indie roots but the unrealistic characters and forced drama didn’t resonate well with many viewers even with positive reviews. Smith also attempted to break new ground with Dogma, a quasi-parody of modern religious attitudes. By this point in the career critics were growing tired with a reliance on using the same characters even if their involvement in the story makes little sense. Dogma suffered under a plodding script and a reliance on a big name cast, and the opinion was split. Smith stated an intention to put the established universe (whose ‘canon’ was only formed through two recurring characters) to bed with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a mish-mash of in-jokes and cameos.

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The cast of ‘Dogma’ Kevin Smith on the left.

Smith made good on his promise to restart his career with the drama/comedy Jersey Girl. The grossly mishandled and unfunny look at being a single parent was more than just a bad movie, it was offensive and largely derided by critics. Smith quickly went back to his roots with Clerks 2, which was only well received by fans of the director and served to do little more than one-up jokes from the original. This was followed by the lacklustre Zack and Miri Make a Porno – a repeat of his original style with different actors, the universally slammed Cop Out and the anti-climatic Red State.

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‘Cop Out’

With his recent output being downright bad it’s surprising that his name is still commonly heard through the film press. This can be attributed to his involvement in other mediums. Smith was quick to use the internet and social media sites as a method of promotion and interaction with fans. He largely uses this to tell fans and critics why they’re wrong about his work, most notably claiming that people giving Cop Out a bad review are akin to “bullying a retarded kid”. He also publicly blamed the failure of the film on star Bruce Willis, claiming that he was difficult to work with (Willis responded that Smith spent the entire shoot smoking marijuana rather than working with the actors). Other incidents include spending several hours on a podcast complaining about an airline taking him off a flight for being fat enough to constitute a safety hazard (in his defence he tried to point out that there was someone fatter) and publishing journals about his anal fissures that resulted from sitting on the toilet for half the day. Classy.

Kevin Smith Southwest

Is He A One-Hit Wonder?

Well, it’s difficult to deny that he has generated a following for his work that stays loyal today. Much of this fandom comes from the recurring humour and characters in his first decade of work, as it’s hard for anyone to defend work such as Cop Out and Jersey Girl. It’s also difficult to say that only one of his films were a hit, as his early output proved somewhat popular.

Having said that, any attempt to stray away from his original formula has resulted in dismal failure. Let’s file this under ‘One Trick Pony’ rather than ‘One Hit Wonder’.

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