A few years ago, the Philly area was abuzz with news that New Jersey’s prodigal stoner son, Kevin Smith, was coming to town to film a movie. First, it was set to be Clerks III, and then, a sequel to 1995’s Mallrats that even had a scheduled start at Exton Square Mall, but ultimately plans for both fell through.
But without those plans going awry, Smith, 49, told The Inquirer on Wednesday, we might never have seen his latest stoner cinematic effort, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.
“That’s how we got to Reboot,” Smith said in a phone call from Pittsburgh, where he filmed 1999’s Dogma. “We were one month out from going to shoot, and then it all fell apart.”
Smith began chopping up the scripts from the two projects, taking the opening scene from Clerks III and the closing act from the Mallrats sequel to create the bones for Reboot. Filmed earlier this year in New Orleans, Smith now will bring two sold-out screenings to the Philadelphia Film Center on Thursday. Smith and his cohort Jason Mewes, the Jay to his Silent Bob, are part of the “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow.” Theaters in the area, including the AMCs Neshaminy and Cherry Hill, will also show the movie starting Friday, sans appearances from Smith and Mewes.
Reboot is a sequel to 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and is Smith’s first trip back to the world of Jay and Silent Bob — also known as the View Askew universe, or View Askewniverse — in more than a decade. The plot takes digs at Hollywood’s ongoing reboot culture, and involves Jay and Silent Bob attempting to shop a remake of a film about their superhero alter-egos, Bluntman and Chronic.
The film also happens to be Smith’s first major film project since he nearly died of a heart attack last year. The experience famously led to him going vegan and losing weight, but it also had an effect on Reboot, which Smith said is a much more emotional film than previous efforts starring the stoner duo.
“Underneath it all, this movie has to stand as a testimony to everything that I believe in life,” he said. “Everything I felt, everything I did, just in case I do die. We’ve got a Jay and Silent Bob movie where, if you’re not careful, you might actually roll a tear … and the heart attack informed it to a great deal.”
The “secret sauce,” as Smith calls it, of the film’s heightened emotion is that, aside from the usual crude humor, Reboot principally deals with family, connectedness, and growing up — primarily through making Mewes’ character a father. Those elements, Smith said, came in after the heart attack, which gave the film a “sheen of ‘life is beautiful, life is important.’ ”
Reboot’s family element is literal thanks to Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), 20, who plays Jay’s daughter Milly. Mewes’ own real-life daughter, Logan, 4, also makes a cameo, but he called acting alongside Smith’s daughter, whom he has known since her birth, “surreal.”
“She was in a stroller for [Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back] and couldn’t even speak, and now she is crying on cue and delivering an amazing performance,” Mewes, 45, said.
The director said his heart attack also helped procure a long list of celebrity cameos, including actors like Ben Affleck, Chris Hemsworth, and Tommy Chong.
“I’d be like, ‘You do realize I almost [expletive] died last year, right?’ ” he said. “They’d go, ‘All right, I’m coming, I’m coming.’ ”
Fans will be happy to know that Reboot isn’t Smith’s final foray into the View Askewniverse. As the director announced last month, both Clerks III and a Mallrats sequel are back in the works. Smith confirmed both projects are coming down the pike, but couldn’t say when fans might expect to see them.
In the latter, Clerks protagonist Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) has a massive heart attack at the start of the film and decides to make his own movie, and in a particularly meta movie, goes about making Clerks — the film that put Smith on the map in 1994.
Clerks III won’t be filming in Philadelphia but will bring Smith back to the Leonardo, N.J., Quick Stop convenience store where his career began. Smith also plans to open a podcasting studio and a theater for script readings and podcast performances, dubbed the SModcastle, near that Quick Stop.
“I could come to Jersey once a month for shows on a weekend, and that will cover rent for the rest of the month or the rest of the year, and the rest of the time we can use it for experimental space,” he said.
Plans for the Mallrats sequel, meanwhile, have not yet been solidified for its production. Smith, however, didn’t rule out bringing that flick back to the Philly area.