I’m a huge fan of Kevin Smith. I’ll unquestionably watch anything he puts his name to, be it acting, directing, writing or otherwise. It is safe to say that without Smith in a lead role I would have not looked twice at Catch And Release‘s soppy slush fest (although Timothy Olyphant is also badass), nor would I have picked up a copy of Good Will Hunting if he hadn’t exec produced (and if rumours are true, had a hand in writing).
It is with that take on Kevin in mind that I entered into his last three features at the cinema: Jersey Girl, Clerks II, and more recently Zack And Miri Make A Porno. These films, whilst far from being terrible, are arguably the weakest in Smith’s canon. Ok, so he stepped outside his comfort zone to helm his biggest feature to date, shoving aside his preferred View Askewniverse for a more conventional story about a single father living in New York after the death of his wife.
Whilst the film itself was brimming with trademark Smith dialogue and pop culture references, somehow it just wasn’t the same. The involvement of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez probably didn’t help, but it’s a poor excuse for a film that, when it comes down to it, just wasn’t up to his usual standard.
Smith then went “back to the well”, as he puts it, for a sequel to Clerks. Clerks II was a decent hit for Smith. After losing money with Jersey Girl, he retreated back to a modestly budgeted (around five million dollars) independent film mining familiar territory. The story was solid, the performances were spot on for the most part (I still can’t take Brian O’Halloran serious as an actor) and he managed to rope Rosario Dawson into the bargain, so bonus points there.
Smith then went on to helm what, at the time, seemed like box office gold, a collaboration with current funny man du jour Seth Rogen on Zack And Miri Make A Porno. Again, back outside his usual bag of tricks, Smith set the story of two lifelong friends making porn to pay the bills outside of his preferred New Jersey and outside of his usual cast of characters from the Askewniverse.
The results were mixed, whilst analysts predicted another $100 million box office for Rogen, the film performed more modestly, barely scraping $40 million worldwide. Some say the reason for this was Smith’s script; others blamed the subject matter, the general opinion being that a film about making porn was never going to hit the mark at the box office.
Bottom line is, even though he’s not a massive draw anyway, Smith’s star is waning. Whilst it’s been said that the theatrical release is little more than a trailer for the DVD, and even though Smith’s previous films have all enjoyed longevity in this medium, studios generally view anything less than double the budget as a failure at the box office, especially after factoring in advertising costs and everything else that goes into making and marketing a film.
So, three films, two box office misses, and one success (albeit a small one). As his canon of films grows, with each new film comes a new flop. Will the studios continue to throw chances at Smith with this average return in mind? Yes and no.
The Weinstein Company passed on Red State, Kevin’s mooted stab at a horror picture, whilst Warner Brothers have lined him up to direct A Couple Of Cops, starring Bruce Willis, so the future is mixed.
Maybe Kevin will find himself directing other people’s scripts, or maybe his scripts will be optioned with other directors, although if his efforts at writing successful Superman and Six Million Dollar Man movies are anything to go by, perhaps not.
Only time will tell what Kevin Smith will be able to pull out of the bag next. I’ll be watching, but will anyone else?