In the mid-nineties, Kevin Smith was one of the defining American cinematic voices of a generation. Clerks ('94) and his more-mainstream followup, Mallrats ('95) were fresh, inventive and vibrant works that explored the disconnected melancholy of the Gen X cohort with wit and verve. His next (and in my estimation, perhaps best film), Chasing Amy ('97), was an interesting continuation of (and extension upon) the themes he'd plumbed in his earlier projects, leading one to believe that Smith's subsequent film output might just follow the ebbs and flows of his generation as they grew into middle age, mortgages and maturity.
It happened.... but not quite in the way you might have expected it to. Somewhere around Dogma ('99), the wheels came off the Smith-mobile. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Kevin Smith stopped making interesting films right around the same time that the entire generation he had been chronicling since their late teens stopped being interesting. It wasn't Smith's creativity that fizzled out, it was the source material he depended upon that dried up. Instead of finding a voice and defining themselves, a goodly portion of the Gen X generation turned out to be lazy, stupid people who are perfectly content going through life without an original, interesting thought in their heads. Rats, and it was going so well.
If we travel up to 2010, Smith's latest film Cop Out, starring Tracy Morgan and Bruce (I-need-a-new-agent) Willis, is a sort of quasi-acknowledgment of the depressing fact that most of Smith's generation have morphed into iPhone-app dullards who play World of Warcraft 7 hours a day and communicate in word-sounds and txt bursts about where they're going after they finish work at Starbucks. Smith's later films have nothing to say because neither does the rest of his generation. In many ways, Smith's mid-career output parallels that of Orson Welles. Welles also started with a 5-year creative burst and then pissed away much of his immense talent on works of dubious merit for the following 25 years. Here's hoping Kevin Smith has a Touch of Evil left in him too because if all that's left in the tank is more Cop Outs, he might as well just stop making pictures now.
That said, not every movie needs to be a deep, spiritual or grandly intellectual experience. Movies can be dumb and still be great. What movies shouldn't be is background noise. The 'turn off your brain' contingent are about movies that don't engage on any level, that require no participation from the viewer, and that disappear completely from your mind the moment the credits roll.
Every now and again a movie slips into the mix that is completely engaging without actually being any good. Losers ('10) directed by Sylvain White and based on the DC/Vertigo comic-book series from writer Andy Diggle and the artist Jock, is just such a picture. This one nearly slipped under my radar this month and that would have been shame because, as comic book flicks go, Losers is competent and a lot of fun. I've been down on comic flicks recently because they tend to cast a long shadow over the industry and eclipse pretty much everything else. Between Dark Knights and Iron Men, (and a healthy dollop of Avatar), the DC/Marvel output has dominated mainstream American film making for a couple of years now and it was starting to get a little tiresome. Losers repositions the comic book movie back where it belongs, squarely in the slightly-giddy boyhood world of escapist fantasy. The participants seem completely aware that they're not creating high art but they haven't reduced the whole affair to camp either. As a result, Losers is a nicely balanced, PG-rated summer action flick that's easy to recommend and surprisingly engaging if you go in with your expectations in check.