Kevin Smith almost died in February 2018, when he had a massive heart attack and was told he had an 80 percent chance of not making it. The filmmaker was at peace with the notion of passing on, seeing it as a high school graduation of sorts, moving on to the next chapter after accomplishing everything he's set out to do. But he had one regret: If he died, the last movie he'd made would be 2016’s Yoga Hosers.
It's not that he didn't care about Yoga Hosers. It was his first film featuring his daughter Harley Quinn Smith in a starring role, as one half of a yoga enthusiast duo that fights Canadian Nazi sausages. But it didn’t feel like the perfect bookend to his life's work. The desire to create a movie that would feel like a culmination of a two-decade-long career prompted him to write a sequel to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, reviving his role as the serious stoner Silent Bob alongside Jason Mewes.
"I was hellbent to make Jay and Silent Bob Reboot speak for me as kind of a living gravestone," he tells VICE. "Suddenly, this movie is no longer just a funny sequel. It’s meant to stand for everything that I ever did over the course of my 25 years in the business." The film, which is currently touring around the country instead of getting a wide release, feels tailor-made for loyal fans who've supported Smith's work over the years, identifying with his off-kilter characters and the unabashed appreciation for nerd culture. The new film references aspects of Smith's personal life, including his recent weight loss and the Southwest Airlines incident from 2010, where he alleged he was kicked off a plane because of his size (Southwest later apologized). Kevin Smith superfans will also recognize his mom Grace and sister Virginia making cameos.
In this Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back sequel, the eponymous duo finds out that there's a movie in the works based on their stoner superhero personas, Bluntman and Chronic, played by Supergirl's Melissa Benoist and Val Kilmer respectively. Jay and Silent Bob set out for Hollywood to stop the movie from being made, but things take a detour after they meet up with Jay's former flame Justice (Shannon Elizabeth) and find out he's the father of her daughter Milly (Harley Quinn Smith), who also happens to have plans to appear in the movie.
Smith's fans have been waiting for a Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back sequel for years. But what makes Reboot so special is the way it pays tribute to the veteran director’s filmography as a whole, weaving references to Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks, and Dogma into its superhero movie-centric storyline. Initially, Smith says, the plan was to feature Jason Lee's Mallrats character, Brodie, in a callback to his cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. But a fateful interview earlier this year between Ben Affleck and ReelBlend's Kevin McCarthy, at a junket for Affleck's Triple Frontier, changed everything.
"He’s at the junket with Ben, and he leads with his opening question, like, 'Hey, they’re making Reboot. Did you get the call yet?'" Smith recalls. “And Ben was like, 'No, nobody called me and I’m free. I've got nothing going on.'" Eventually, Smith's producer Jordan Monsanto pushed him to reconnect with his old friend, who had portrayed various characters in Smith's films, including Chasing Amy and Dogma. "She was like, 'You should reach out to him,' and I was like, 'No, that’s just a nice thing to say at a junket. What are you going to tell a journalist—fuck Kevin Smith?'"
Smith and Affleck hadn't talked in nearly a decade . Plus, he had four phone numbers that belonged to Affleck, so which one could it be? " I picked one number and tried it, and I texted, 'This you?' And he texted back, 'This me—who this?' And I said, 'Who’s this?' And he wrote, "B A." And I said, 'Really?' And he wrote, 'This is your father,' which is something that Ben says, [and] I felt like, Oh my lord, this is him!"
Smith felt anxious about reaching out to Affleck, as he was about to ask him for a big favor. "Suddenly, I was going to find out whether or not we were friends or anything, or if he was really holding a grudge or didn’t like me or whatever. We didn’t have a big blowout fight or something like that. Just malaise; the friendship just stopped. I was terrified of what his response would be, and then he wrote back, 'It’s so telling you still think of yourself as a king,' which made me laugh. It’s a very Ben thing to say. And then he said, 'I would love to come play. When?' And then I broke down in tears."
There was one caveat, though. Affleck thought Reboot was filming in Los Angeles instead of New Orleans. "He goes, 'You don’t have access to a jet, do you? Because I can’t really fly commercial,'" recalls Smith. Luckily, Snoop Dogg inadvertently saved the day. "At one point, Snoop Dogg was going to do the movie, and they told us we needed to get him a jet, because he doesn't travel except on jet. He's too famous. We didn't have the money in the budget, but we did an endorsement deal for some weed products [from Kush Boys] in the movie, and that gave us a little chunk of money that we were going to use to fly Snoop out to be in the flick. But he ghosted us."
Now they had a way of getting Affleck to New Orleans. But they still had to figure out who he would play. Smith had thrown around the idea of having him play Blutman and Chronic's nemesis Cock Knocker in the movie-within-the-movie scene featuring the superheroes. But then it dawned on Smith that this could be the perfect opportunity to bring back one of his favorite characters, Chasing Amy’s Holden McNeil.
Of course, no Chasing Amy mini-sequel would be complete without the beloved Alyssa Jones, played by Joey Lauren Adams. "I texted Joey and I said, 'Hey, how are you doing?' And she's like, 'I was waiting for you to get in touch with me. I see everybody else is in the movie! Do you want me to come out of the movie theater and say stupid shit again?' Because that's what she thought of her last role in Jay and Silent Bob." In the scene she was presumably referring to, she plays Alyssa and makes a meta-joke after watching the Bluntman and Chronic movie, saying it was "better than Mallrats"—and that Chasing Amy, Holden's graphic novel about his relationship with Alyssa, "would never work as a movie."
But this was far from "stupid shit." Affleck and Adams' scene in Reboot is a monumental one, revealing that Holden and Alyssa are still heavily involved in each other's lives, with Holden becoming a sperm donor to Alyssa and her current partner, who is played by Smith's sister Virginia, reprising her small role as Alyssa's love interest in Chasing Amy. Virginia serendipitously happened to be in town during the filming. Smith says he told her that her appearance in the scene would "reframe the entire Chasing Amy experience as a love story that only begins in the last four minutes of the movie, because you guys would still be together."
Initially, Smith wanted to bring back Alyssa and Holden as a couple, but Adams convinced him to scrap that and write something that would feel more appropriate for the characters. "Joey was like, 'Kevin, I get it—you’re a romantic at heart. But you’re talking about a character who means so much to so many people, and you’re going to turn around and be like, Oh, by the way, she had sex with the guy again? It’s not that simple. You have to be way more responsible than that with the character.'"
For understandable reasons, Chasing Amy’s Pinkerton-esque premise of a lesbian falling in love with a straight guy hasn't aged particularly well. GQ's Sophia Benoit criticized it on Twitter in 2018, to which Smith responded: "Please understand that it was written by a 26 year old Jersey boy in 1996 who was desperately trying to think outside of his hetero box. He’s not woke, he's waking up."
By reframing the story in a way that champions Alyssa's queerness, Smith hopes fans will see the film in a new light. "Holden was the guy who thought he was edgy and liberal and at heart was very conservative in his thinking"” Smith says. “He saw Alyssa and knew she meant something more than the average bear to him, but [he] put it through the standard prism of 'You’re a girl and I'm a boy and so we must be in love. We must have sex. We must be in that relationship.' Years later, with that scene in the movie, what you realize is he grew. The Holden we met in Chasing Amy could never be the Holden that he is in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot had he not met Alyssa Jones. She changed his life for the better."
After bringing back Affleck, it was a no-brainer to get in touch with Matt Damon, who had starred in Smith’s 1999 film Dogma as the fallen angel Loki. "I was just going to use him as Matt Damon, but then my wife was like, 'How come you never think to use him as Loki again?' I’m like, 'Well, Loki died. And she’s like, 'Yeah, in a movie.'" Thanks to his wife Jennifer, Smith realized that he could also incorporate a Dogma storyline, using Loki as a narrator. Damon accepted the invitation.
Smith had already planned to bring along other familiar faces alongside Jay and Silent Bob. Since he wasn't able to make the Mallrats sequel he'd set out to create years ago, he decided to ask Jason Lee to reprise his role as the comic book fan Brodie, this time in a world where being obsessed with superheroes is no longer a niche interest.
“I couldn't wait to use Brodie in the current day and age because he is a character obsessed with pop culture, a guy who was an early Marvel adopter and a big Stan Lee acolyte before anybody else was," he says. "We get to check in on Brodie in a post-Marvel Cinematic Universe world. Brodie must feel validated, vindicated; it’s his time to shine. And, of course, who better than him to explain the premise of reboots and remakes in the first place?"
Smith initially wanted the character to express strong opinions on the MCU. "In the first draft of the script, Brodie was much harsher. He actually went in after the pop culture targets a little more pointedly, but I’m just not that guy. I would just rather [be] inclusive and make you laugh about stuff. So the kind of pointed stuff went away."
Bringing back Brodie for a superhero movie-focused story also meant the possibility of the character’s hero, Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee, returning to the mall. Before his passing in November 2018, Lee was supposed to have a big role in the film as the producer of the Bluntman and Chronic's movie—and to appear speaking in a panel about the flick. But the role was changed upon his passing, with Smith being credited as the filmmaker behind the superhero flick. "In the first draft, Stan Lee was a major character in the third act,” Smith says. “He was the guy that the bad guys had come to get instead of [fictionalized] Kevin Smith [at Chronic Con]. We lost Stan, so we couldn’t necessarily do that version of the movie."
Smith knows fans have been waiting to see these characters again for over a decade, so he wants to create a special experience for them where they can bond over watching it together, and even have a chance to meet Smith. "I’m going to be seeing this for every night for 62 tour stops with people who are ardent believers. It’s going to be like going to church 62 days in a row, where you’re not only the celebrant, the person up front celebrating the mass, you’re also somewhat of the god that they’re there to pray to.” Having the opportunity to share a film that means a lot to him is what Smith has been waiting for, so it makes perfect sense for him to relish that moment. "A Kevin Smith movie is lucky if I get a weekend at the box office and really it’s normally a day. But by touring the movie, I get to extend that wind as long as possible."