As crass, vulgar, irreverent, raunchy, and iconoclastic as a movie can get, Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is also the savviest, cleverest and funniest movie to hit theater screens in a while — and it’s the first truly daring and subversive “shock” comedy in a year that has boasted more than its share of desperate attempts in this realm (Say It Isn’t So, Freddy Got Fingered, Scary Movie 2). Where other such efforts merely seemed juvenile or incoherent, Jay and Silent Bob goes straight for the jugular of good taste and propriety and never lets go. The film represents the fifth and final installment in Smith’s “Jersey Chronicles” — Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma — and the fifth and final appearance of his beloved, almost magical, stoner-slackers, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). In the previous films, the duo has appeared in supporting capacities (often as a surprising bit of outright whimsy when least expected, e.g. Chasing Amy). Here the foul-mouthed Jay and his quiet “hetero life-partner,” Bob, take center stage as they head for Hollywood to stop a movie based on their characters from being made, while stars like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon find themselves in good-natured support of the duo. “This movie has everything — a road trip, girls, a monkey, a movie studio and a cast of thousands. And Jay gets his first on-screen kiss. What better way to end it all?” asks Smith in the film’s presskit. Actually, this movie has all that and a lot more. The film’s often hysterically funny ending credits find Smith thanking his friends for helping to turn 90 minutes of swearing into a viable movie — and in a lot of ways, he ain’t kidding. Jay and Silent Bob is almost impossibly vulgar in terms of language (we see early on just how Jay picked up his seeming inability to construct a sentence without some permutation of the “f word” in it). But it’s worth noting that it’s not the film’s non-stop-swearathon nature that makes it shocking. Rather, it’s the subject matter. As usual, Smith goes places that more timid souls choose to pretend don’t exist (this is, after all, the man who explained an esoteric sexual practice to America in Clerks). And while other filmmakers who make little jabs at the “unspeakable” never do more than raise a few eyebrows or make you question their sanity (and Hollywood’s), Smith demands our attention — precisely because his outrages are grounded in human reality. After all, jokingly raising questions about sexuality, sexual practices, religion, etc., is a lot more to the point for most of us than Tom Green gutting a deer and running around inside its skin. It comes as no surprise, then, that Smith’s movies tend to upset people. Jay and Silent Bob is no exception. This time Smith is being accused of defaming the gay community, owing to the barrage of gay jokes in the film. The jokes are certainly there. From the moment George Carlin appears on the scene to teach the boys the fundamentals of hitchhiking (let’s just say it involves being very friendly with the person who picks you up, regardless of gender), announcing that it’s the new millenium and sexual boundaries no longer exist, we know Smith isn’t just setting up a gag, but clueing us in on the direction the film is headed on this topic. Before it’s over, there’s scarcely a soul in the film — characters, real-life personalities, even Smith himself — whose sexuality hasn’t been questioned. Moreover, the questions are raised, but rarely are they authoritatively settled, except for appearance’s sake. For instance, Silent Bob may assure Jay that, no, he wasn’t really willing to perform a sex act with him to get them out of a jam — but as soon as Jay exits the scene, Bob lets the audience in on the fact that he indeed was. It’s the sort of a thing you’d think nervous straights might find more troubling than anyone else, so I don’t really get how any specific group is being defamed here. Smith seems more readily attacking sexual hypocrisy in all its forms. Primarily, though, Jay and Silent Bob is a non-stop barrage of great gags, clever dialogue, delightfully surprising guest stars (including the best-ever performance by Chris Rock as a Spike Lee-like, chip-on-his-shoulder movie director), and endless in-jokes. It’s true that the more you know of Smith’s previous work, the more you’ll get out of this movie — but the uninitiated aren’t left totally in the dark. It’s also Smith’s most traditionally cinematic film to date (no one’s likely to complain, this time, that Smith doesn’t know how to move a camera), suggesting that the shift to this completely conscious approach (the movie never forgets it’s a movie and never lets the viewer forget it, either), and its no-holds-barred comedic approach has at last allowed Smith to be more a filmmaker than a writer who directs. If you’re offended by “bad” language, or if brazenly sexual jokes bother you, this isn’t your movie. But if you’re willing to go with its sheer outrageousness, Jay and Silent Bob has a lot to offer — including more solid laughs than all the other comedies of the summer put together.