Dogma (1999)

Just when I was beginning to lose faith that I would never again see another good comedy, I watched Dogma. Dogma is about faith, in a sense, or rather, it uses faith as a base, instead of making a claim about religion in general. It’s odd then, how before the film even begins, a message pops up stating that the movie is not attempting to offend anyone’s beliefs. Then this message transitions into one about the creature known as the platypus. The movie, at this time, felt self-aware, a feeling that went to pass after actual actors appear on-screen.

The film opens up with a homeless man being beaten by a group of teenagers wielding hockey sticks. No explanation is given, and we soon move to the next scene. This one begins with the late comedian George Carlin playing a church cardinal. Okay, I can see how that could be slightly offensive. However, Carlin doesn’t actually take any shots at his character’s faith at all, and instead plays his character straight. Completely over-the-top, but still straight. The church has decided to celebrate its centennial anniversary with a plenary indulgence. This means that anyone who enters the church is granted freedom from all their past sins.

A newspaper article of this event is received by two fallen angels, Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon). They were sent to Earth because Bartleby managed to convince Loki to resign from his position as the Angel of Death. They realize that by walking through the church gates, God will forgive them of their sins, and will be allowed back into Heaven.

What they don’t know, and what we soon find out, is that doing this will completely destroy the world as we know it. See, if God is overruled, then nothing can exist anymore. God realizes this, and sends a girl by the name of Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) to stop the two angels from accomplishing their goal.

This is how the rest of the story takes place, switching back between the two Angels and Bethany. She gets a large number of “people” helping her, including two stoner “profits” (Kevin Smith & Jason Mewes), the 13th apostle (Chris Rock) and even the voice of God (Alan Rickman). Despite the fact that Bethany’s group gets larger throughout the film, every time we are viewing the events related to her, the film does start to get boring.

Dogma is a funny film about religion.

I’m not sure if this is due to there being poorer acting, or maybe there just weren’t as many funny situations, but Bethany’s group just didn’t keep up the hilarity that ensues whenever we switch over to the Angels’ side. While Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith do a great job as a couple of stoners that Bethany meets, Fiorentino, who plays Bethany, wasn’t. She delivered almost every line in the same tone, making it hard to tell when she was actually being sarcastic, or when she was trying to show genuine emotion. Chris Rock was also not great, showing little emotion and being far too loud and obnoxious to be believable as an apostle.

However, when we get to see the two Angels, things do get quite funny. Damon and Affleck are hilarious in their roles, and oddly enough, their characters actually change throughout the film. We learn which of them actually does carry compassion for humans, as well as which of them actually should have been titled the “Angels of Death.” They’re quite funny, and the little retorts that they give one another are great.

Surprisingly, Dogma never actually feels offensive. It doesn’t seem to want to take much of a side in the “religious vs. non-religious” debate, nor does it really need to. It takes some characters from Catholicism, and essentially makes them into modern, relatable people. It borders on being potentially offensive at times, but it never seemed to overstep that boundary.

There is something that I question, however, and that is the choice to make it into a comedy. It’s a funny film, I can’t deny, but I would like to know what it would have been like if it was played straight. Clearly, some things would have to be changed, but I would have been interested in someone else taking this idea and making it into a serious film using the Angels to make a point against or for religion, or maybe just making a solid action/drama film. Hold on just one second! Constantine attempted something like that. Never mind then, I was just trying to think outside the box, and I would never want to see something similar to that.

Dogma is a funny film, which manages to tell an interesting story with relatable characters. It wasn’t offensive enough for there to be a warning message at the beginning, but it did manage to walk a fine line regarding the topic of religion. The two Angels end up giving the audience the most fun, although there are laughs to be had at the expense of the two stoner prophets that get met along the way. Dogma is a good comedy, one that has, in a sense, restored my faith in the genre.

Conclusion: Dogma is a funny film about religion.

Recommendation: Watch it unless its premise offends you.

  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10

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