Were we wrong to root for Kevin Smith?
When he burst onto the scene in 1994, it was the most improbable of rags-to-riches movie narratives: bankrolling Clerks by selling his comic book collection and running up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Almost overnight, he joined the likes of Rodriguez and Tarantino as indie-film royalty. Unlike them, however, Smith seemed like a regular dude with mainstream tastes — an Everyman in a hockey sweater — and audiences were eager to see what he’d come up with next.
It seems appropriate this year to frame everything in the context of the election, which is why I'm going to compare Kevin Smith to Donald Trump. No, Smith’s not a sentient collection of racist gas spores, but as with Trump and the Republican nomination, Smith after Sundance seemed wholly unprepared once his initial efforts to succeed actually worked — and he appeared unwilling to accept the subsequent responsibilities. In any event, Smith’s post-Clerks career comes across, at best, like a great deal of unrealized potential.
Which brings us to Yoga Hosers, the second in Smith’s promised (threatened?) “True North” trilogy of movies set in Canada for no apparent reason other than that he appears to find the accents hilarious. (The first was the walrus-themed horror film Tusk.) Lily-Rose Depp and Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn, play the hosers, both named Colleen. The pair works at the “Eh-2-Zed” convenience store when not holding band practice or peering obsessively into their smartphones. What might sound like fairly typical teen-movie fare eventually morphs into something more sinister involving Canadian Nazis, mutant sodomizing bratwursts and the return of Tusk’s Quebecois man-hunter Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp).
Depp, nearly unrecognizable under bushy eyebrows and a beret (of course), and almost unintelligible thanks to a Monty Python–esque French accent, serves to move along what there is of the plot. The film meanders for nearly half its scant running time before getting to something resembling conflict. Along the way, there’s an entirely unnecessary subplot involving high school Satanists and interludes with Justin Long playing a yoga guru named “Yogi Bayer” (yes) and Tony Hale as the father of one of the Colleens. And then there are the Canadian jokes.
Then again, “jokes” implies something entertainingly humorous, whereas that lone selfie those hikers shot with Justin Trudeau was a better Canadian chuckle than Yoga Hosers’ death by a thousand “aboots.” Smith’s obsession with the Great White North is almost as puzzling as his inability to wrest anything remotely funny from the surroundings. The convenience store boasts the “world’s largest collection of artisanal maple syrups,” because it’s Canada, and everybody’s weapon of choice is a hockey stick. Because it’s Canada. There's even two minutes over the end credits of Smith and co-host Scott Mosier’s Smodcast of the two men cracking each other up with their Canuck impressions.
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This is probably the most honest part of the film, because at its core, Yoga Hosers isn’t a movie: It’s a podcast riff given material form; a bong rip visualized; an SCTV sketch devoid of laughs. It struggles to fill an hour and a half, with most of the cast serving little purpose beyond padding things out a few more minutes. The Colleens sing two songs (Anthrax’s “I’m the Man” and Styx’s “Babe”), and the villain, Arcane (Ralph Garman), explains his evil scheme while impersonating — among others — Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Pacino, the better to squeeze the last remaining guffaws from “Whoo-ah!” (reminder: Scent of a Woman was released 24 years ago).
Perhaps more significant is how Yoga Hosers shows Smith’s continued devolution as a filmmaker. Flawed as movies like Dogma and Clerks II were, there was always a scene or two upon which to pin future hopes. Here, only the reliably up-for-anything Long and a surprisingly game performance by Sasheer Zamata (as the girls’ school principal) are worth noting. Everything else is either rehashed material from Smith’s previous works (clerk Colleen M. is “not even supposed to be here today,” while Arcane’s riffs are reminiscent of Tracy Morgan’s quote-a-thon in Cop Out), poorly developed concepts (the Colleens’ dialogue is almost a parody of how teens actually talk) and an apparently honest desire to kill his critics.
Smith has repeatedly reminded the world that his movies “aren’t for critics,” and he has embarked on distribution schemes to support this assertion. And yet, in Yoga Hosers, he resurrects his need to get even with his detractors, a need he's expressed since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Many characters, including Arcane, express their hatred of “haters.” Arcane's evil creation is even specifically designed to seek out and murder critics, who it turns out were responsible for his ultimate turn to evil. It’s very Shyamalan-esque (or, at least, Lady in the Water–esque), which is interesting considering the two directors once feuded. Nothing like a shared interest to bring people together.
Yoga Hosers is lazy, unfunny and self-indulgent. It should have been binned the second the (literal) smoke cleared, and while it’s been clear for some time that Smith is either incapable of making a good movie or simply doesn’t care to, Yoga Hosers may very well be the film that finally convinces audiences the emperor has no hockey jersey.