Jay & Silent Bob Reboot: on set of Kevin Smith’s stoner sequel

Is Smith’s reboot more of the same, or could the perennial man-kids be turning over a new leaf? We visit the Louisiana set to find out…

“It’s literally the same f**king movie all over again,” Kevin Smith told the audience at a Q&A event last year. He was, of course, describing Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, the newest instalment in the saga of eternal stoners Jay and Silent Bob, and another gleefully uncouth addition to the cult filmmaker’s eclectic filmography.

While it’s not the exact same film as 2001’s Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, the pair’s first spin-off outing, it does tread similar ground – and the always meta Smith knows it. Speaking to Den Of Geek down a crackly line from Los Angeles, the writer-director-star tells us that “the pitch of the movie was always simple: it makes fun of reboots, sequels and remakes while being all three at the same time”, and it comes with all the cameos and inside jokes you’d expect from a Kevin Smith feature.

Flashback to spring 2019, where Den Of Geek is standing in the basement of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (doubling for a New Jersey airport) on a muggy evening in March, watching Saturday Night Live icon Molly Shannon practise her best swearing. “See ya, boys…go f**k yourselves,” she says. She tries again with a wave: “Bye, boys…go f**k yourselves.”

Dressed as a check-in assistant, Shannon is just one of Reboot’s many cameoing stars and she seems to be having the time of her life. It’s a fairly surreal sight but par for the course on a Kevin Smith set in which everyone, behind and in front of the camera, is clearly having a whale of a time. #MeToo jokes are delivered with aplomb, there’s a parody of Uber (“Or you could …Ride Me Now?”) and an explanation for Silent Bob’s weight loss (“He’s been eating all that veg-ina”).

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Chatting to Smith’s co-star Jason Mewes in his trailer is a bit like talking to his character, Jay – not least because everyone on set uses Mewes’ abbreviated nickname, which just so happens to be ‘Jay’ (something that never gets any less confusing) – and they share the same garrulous, laidback DNA. Asked whether there’s any concern over the amusingly mischievous Reboot potentially falling victim to today’s volatile ‘cancel culture’, Mewes laughs. “I mean, I definitely say some things that aren’t… you know…” he grins. “But it’s the characters saying it, it’s the script, and everyone we’re playing with – the characters, the actors – no one takes offence to this.

“The original [Strike Back] couldn’t get away with a lot, but now I feel like with certain words Jay would say that are foul-mouthed, there’s a lot of heart to it. There’s not as much deep meaning to the first one as this one, with the comedy and the diversity. I feel like Kevin took the movie and really made it work with this time and with this era.”

The next day, Den Of Geek steps into a fully realised branch of Mooby’s – the fictional eateries that feature throughout Smith’s cinematic ‘View Askewniverse’ – where cameoing comedian Kate Micucci, fitted out in the fast food joint’s uniform, is testing her skill with a flick knife. Over the following 12 hours, we witness Micucci spring her knife on Silent Bob, SNL star Fred Armisen throw tater tots (basically, smaller hash browns) from the roof of a van, Silent Bob’s first on-screen kiss, and Jay simulate a rather personal sexual act. Surreal doesn’t even cover it. When asked about the process of selecting stars like Armisen and Micucci for his trademark guest spots, Smith laughs: “We called everyone. What you see is everyone who was willing to make the trip and come down to New Orleans to shoot with us.

“Some people I called, like ‘Are you free for two hours to shoot on Reboot?’ and they were like, ‘Where are you?’ and I was like, ‘We’re in New Orleans, not in LA.’ ‘Oh, man, I can’t fly all the way to New Orleans…’ And I would then remind them that ‘Remember, bro, you do know I almost died last year’,” says Smith, referring to the major heart attack he suffered in February 2018, exactly a year before he started filming Reboot. “So they were like, ‘Alright, I’m coming, I’m coming.’ The heart attack helped us cast this movie – it deserves a casting credit!”

Much like his most recent few films, Smith’s own actress daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, appears in Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, but this time portraying Jay’s estranged love child, Milly (that’s short for Millennium Falcon, of course). It’s been five years since the Smiths shot Yoga Hosers, Smith Sr’s scattershot Canadian acid trip (“Most folks I’ve met in the world, even the ones who hardcore like me, are like, ‘Bro, you lost me at Yoga Hosers’…It’s just such a weird movie”). So, what was it like directing his daughter again?

“She became a real actress. When I worked with her [then] she was a little kid, like Jay in Clerks,” he explains. “If she didn’t say it the way I wanted her to, I’d be like, ‘Say it like this’, then she’d say it like that, [it was] more of a mimic performance than anything else.

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“[With Jay & Silent Bob Reboot], she’s in a completely different movie – we’re all making a cartoon, she’s making a drama, she’s, like, out there acting, Stella Adler-style. By day three, I was like, ‘Holy shit, she’s Marilyn in The Munsters!’ She’s humanising it, she grounds it.”

There’s seemingly a softer side to Jay & Silent Bob Reboot that feels like a natural evolution of the two weed-addled boys from New Jersey. Smith’s heart attack played a huge role in both how the characters matured and how he directed Reboot. “When I was on the table, they were like, ‘You’re probably gonna die tonight,’ so I felt like, you know what, I had a pretty good f**king life. An 80 per cent chance of dying is not good, but everything’s been great, I can’t complain.

“Then I was suddenly seized by this notion that, ‘Oh my f**king god, if I die tonight the last movie I made was Yoga Hosers!’ and that says nothing about me except, ‘He didn’t know this was gonna be the last movie he ever made.’ I knew if we’d just made Reboot, that would have been the movie to go out on, so when the doc pulled me out of the heart attack I was like ‘Holy sh*t, what a lucky break’ – like Bill Murray at the end of Scrooged when he gets out of the elevator.” (Den Of Geek hears an enthusiastic Smith take a moment to re-enact the scene over the phone.)

Smith is candid about the fact that there’s a high likelihood of another heart attack. “In a world where there might be another heart attack, I was going to be ready this time,” he says. “I can’t f**k around anymore. It’s gonna be a movie that says it all, that represents everything I f**king care about. If the heart attack gets me the second time, I’m OK with this being the last one.”

The director reckons he’s so content with how Jay & Silent Bob Reboot has turned out, he might make some dangerous lifestyle changes to ensure it becomes his legacy. “Right now, Reboot being the last movie, I’d be totally OK with that,” he says, deploying a bit of gallows humour. “So much so that I’m like, ‘Maybe I should stop being vegan, drink a lot of milk, eat a lot of burgers and pork and try and go for the heart attack now, so I can go out on this note!’”

Though Smith might kid that Jay & Silent Bob Reboot is just a rehash of the duo’s inaugural spin-off, there’s a charming beating heart to this outing that we haven’t seen before. Charting Jay’s ascension into the role of a father figure is untapped territory for the series and for Smith, it’s exactly why he did it. “That’s the movie to me,” he says. “If we did honest movie titles, it’d be Jay Finds Milly, and that relationship still makes me emotional and hopeful watching it back.” Despite everything, it’s definitely not the same f**king movie all over again because somehow, quite miraculously, Jay and Silent Bob are all grown up.

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Jay & Silent Bob Reboot opens in UK cinemas on 29th November.