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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.26.16] horror comedy

Here’s a list of things you can do to make your film completely critic-proof: 1) Base it on an idea so inherently silly that anyone attempting to take it seriously either looks like a complete tool or a killjoy. 2) Credit it as an homage to ‘80s late-night horror comedy so that you can plausibly claim that it’s supposed to be crappy. 3) Cast your family in it so that anyone complaining about the acting is just ‘getting personal’ or even worse, ‘being a bully’. 4) Use the film to make fun of film critics, this way any negative criticism looks like a pathetic tantrum from some feeble-minded, limp-wristed, damp-eyed so-called intellectual. You simply can’t lose!

I’m not a big Kevin Smith fan, but I’m definitely not a hater either. I own some of his films, and I think that he can be really good. I don’t think for a moment that Yoga Hosers is Smith at his best, but then I don’t think that he does either. Before the screening the director appeared and basically told us that we wouldn’t like this film. Not a good sign, but Smith knew what he was doing. It was a ruse. This film is critic-proof. Is it good? Not really. But it’s by no means terrible either. What’s going on? Let me explain.

Smith’s early films were characterized by long, rambling conversations, often centred on cultural touchstones, films and comics, and how they related to the lives of the characters within the film. Whether or not one were stoned (and I think I was most of the time) these conversations tended to pull you in. His characters were funny and said funny things, and it usually felt as though he had put a lot of thought and effort into each project. Smith was never a strong director, but he could write.

This is why it’s so bizarre that his latest film seems so thoughtlessly hauled together. It’s not that it isn’t funny (I laughed several times) nor that it’s badly made (the craftsmanship is as solid as any of Smith’s previous films), it’s more that the entire project feels like a cast-off, a goofy idea that’s been stretched into a feature film and padded out with filler. So, really, it comes as no surprise to discover that it's exactly that. The film is based on a joke from Smith’s radio podcast that he decided to create a film around. Apparently it took a mere four months to get from the joke to the first day of shooting, and boy does it show.

The story concerns two teenage girls, best friends both named Colleen (played by Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) who work at a convenience store in Winnipeg (the ‘Eh to Z’ – the first of many Canada jokes). They insult their annoying customers, play in a garage band and practice yoga at the mall. After learning in history class about the short-lived Nazi uprising in Canada during the Second World War, they discover that recent grisly murders in their town are being committed by a horde of Nazi bratwurst demons living underneath the store. Along with an inept local private investigator (an unrecognizable Johnny Depp), they must defeat the ‘Bratzis’ and save the day.

The film is indeed structured like an ‘80s horror flick, and while it’s probably more reminiscent of Terrorvision or CHUD 2 than, say, Gremlins (which is clearly what it’s going for) or Night of the Creeps (still a high watermark), its trashiness does make it somewhat endearing. There’s the standard plot and character set-up - a hot date scheduled with some cute boys and a big party which is interrupted by evil Nazi sausage men - so all the usual boxes are ticked in this regard.

What’s most striking about the film though is just how damn fast it moves. We barely have time to meet the characters and get adjusted to the concept of demonic bratwurst before all hell is breaking loose, and while this may feel appropriate for a dumb, low-budget horror flick, it means the film doesn’t really feel like a Smith product at all. It’s all done at the expense of connecting with the material. Gone are the introspective characters and tangled relationships of his earlier films, replaced now by a breakneck pace and more flippant style of dialogue, plus endless, crushingly irritating cutaways to consol game-style profiles for each new character, complete with ironic hashtags and pop-punk visuals. Introducing characters with profile boxes to explain their personality is weak by any standards, but from the guy who made Clerks and Chasing Amy it's simply lazy writing. It's as if the film sought to establish a central relationship reminicent of Ghost World or even Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, but hadn't the foresight to develop it properly, resorting instead to shorthand in the hope that we'd simply 'get it' and move on.

It is, of course, absolutely fine that Smith wants to distance himself from his earlier, more personal film-making style, and his film Red State actually felt like an earnest and successful attempt to do something different, but with Yoga Hosers it’s impossible to escape this back-of-the-cigarette-packet feel to the plot - it’s as though it’s being made up as the film zips along. It is also slightly galling that Smith continues to rally against film critics when his first film’s critical success is entirely responsible for his subsequent career. I get that he’s still sore about the drubbing he received regarding Cop Out, but the best way to get over that is to make a really good film, not to retreat into glib, self-reverential vanity projects.

It’s pointless to go into any depth regarding the performances as they really aren’t important. The characters could be played by sock puppets. For what it’s worth though, both Depp and Smith jnr. are perfectly fine in their roles and they have pretty good chemistry. Johnny Depp is obviously having fun too; his French Canadian accent is truly awful and his prosthetic nose looks like a little penis. The best laughs in the film, however, come from somebody doing a series of impressions of famous actors, including a spot-on Pacino and Adam West [editor's note: the actor is Ralph Garman, who also co-hosts Hollywood Babylon with Kevin Smith]. (The Colleens don’t know who either of these people are which was a nice touch). It’s not a great sign when celebrity impersonations get the biggest response since it might as well be something from Youtube, but there you go. Maybe it’s all part of Smith’s message? #millennialsrulelolz

Yoga Hosers is mindless schlock, a mediocre genre film from a director who’s capable of more. That said, it’s not a total washout. I counted about five good honest laughs, which made it relatively worthwhile. After the film Smith came out for a Q&A and I lasted about 25 minutes (it took him that long to answer the first question, not once pausing for breath, nor actually answering the question) before I had to quietly exit. A little Smith goes a long way. I suspect he can and will do better, although I’m not so sure that Moose Jaws (his next film) is going to be much of an improvement. Maybe I should get stoned for that one.

Recommended Release: TUSK

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