Kevin Smith put out his worst-reviewed, least seen film of his career this year with YOGA HOSERS, which stars Lily Rose Depp and Smith’s own daughter Harley Quinn Smith as 15-year-old precocious teens Colleen Collette and Colleen McKenzie who work at Manitoban convenience store Eh-2-Zed. Finding out evil Nazi bratwurst have infested the store, the Colleens join forces with Johnny Depp’s Guy Lapointe — who they briefly encountered in Smith’s previous film TUSK, surely you remember!… you don’t??? — to dismantle this resurgent Nazi threat.
Hmm. I am not a slavish Smith disciple. But I did and do like his work better than Hollywood comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow’s work, because of Smith’s quirky eccentricities. When Smith rather publicly bemoaned the relative financial disappointment of ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, I tweeted him that I appreciated that he may not make much over 30 million on any one release, but it’s the “right 30 million.” I thought this and still do, as Apatow’s slick commercial successes have not stayed with me much beyond release, but I can conjure up a half-dozen or more moments that make me smile from any Smith film upon command, save the two Smith films I can’t stand (more on that later). His resilience and basic good-hearted humanism have proved enduring to me even as apparently many others have jumped ship, whether because of a perceived falling off in his abilities, or just resentment of his enduring ability to make movies his own way, for better or worse.
I have not wholly embraced his recent open-stoner period, not because I “just say no” (although I do), but because it has coincided with his “critics are bad” period which is generally when a director starts making crappy work, knows it, and gets defensive about it. He didn’t have any issue with critics when they embraced CHASING AMY and seemed zen enough when most trashed MALLRATS, a position I heartily agree with, having gone opening day to a laugh-free matinee. But for about half a decade, since many had the bad manners to hate COP-OUT, his awful Bruce Willis comedy, Smith has made it clear critics are hardly fit to have opinions of the movies made by pioneering stoners such as himself. It’s not his most endearing quality, but luckily, I still think the majority of his films are good, and most of the time he remains a sharp, funny good-natured fella who at his best has a brightly loony quality, recently exhibited in a Smodcast episode where he and co-host Scott Mosier spent about 45 minutes reading Wikipedia pages trying to figure out who was the greater Canadian, Bryan Adams or Corey Hart.
That Canada obsession has placed a question mark over the head of most moviegoers still paying attention, but I find it one of the most endearing qualities of YOGA HOSERS, which keeps up its candy-colored energy for about two-thirds of the running time; if anything, the film needs more Canada. The lithe ennui of the two Colleens is amusing (both Depp and Smith are funny and cute and show promise as deadpan comedians), as HOSERS works for about an hour as a kind of a CLERKS 3 where the clerks get away with insolent behavior because they’re cute and chirpy so no one can stay truly mad at them. For most of its running time, even HOSERS’ terrible jokes hold something recognizable that hearkens back to the glory days of the Askew universe (which he abandoned in some kind of a snit after the relative disappointment of PORNO, although PORNO is a much more mature film than the painful COP OUT he followed it with). There’s kind of a characteristic, fluky temperament to HOSERS’ first part that’s all Smith, and if it never really seems to be going anywhere, often feeling like a car rolling backward down a hill in its first hour, it’s nevertheless a car full of likable stoners amiably giggling at their predicament.
Smith’s previous film TUSK was underrated (and in fact largely and unfairly hated), with two excellent performances from Michael Parks and Justin Long, and an interesting structure; its dark man-turning-into animal tale has a noble history (FLY, METAMORPHOSIS), and Smith did it proud. If weird. After the impressive, astute and memorably dark RED STATE (a terrific and surprising move from Smith, which probably couldn’t have been made without that damned COP OUT debacle to inspire him), the quirky dark TUSK was a minor achievement, but certainly a personal film from a man with a vision. A monster movie of sorts, a tall tale, a shaggy dog joke, and finally a Greek tragedy, of all things. And I found Johnny Depp’s first performance as Canadian lawman Guy LaPointe rather amusing, on which opinions also vary.
So despite the negative press and lack of buzz even from Smith fans, I still held hope for YOGA HOSERS, and I smiled and stayed tuned to Smith’s wavelength throughout most of the film, before its lengthy climactic sequence filled with unfunny exposition about the genesis of these Canadian Nazi bratwurst (I would hope that a weed-free Smith might have realized no one cares about this and just went for more “aboot”s), and a lame action finale that pretty much just repeats what was witnessed in the first Nazi bratwurst attack on the girls. The juvenile energy for the final third seems desperate and compulsive, and I’m not sure who would respond to this oddball, unfunny sequence, as it feels less like the film is giggling amiably and more like it’s hysterically sniggering at byways it hasn’t noticed played out a half hour earlier.
Smith-the very-intelligent-filmmaker might suspect this, as he returns to the candy-colors for an ending credit sequence where the girls chirpily sing “Oh Canada”; it’s pleasant enough, as HOSERS returns to the pop landscape that was sorely missing in the dull, juvenile last third of the flick. However, even this is followed by a few minutes of audio from Smith and Mosier’s Smodcast episode where Mosier first coined the term “yoga hoser,” sending Smith into spasms of laughter. I don’t know, maybe you had to be there. And stoned. But it’s almost like Smith is reminding you the film sprang out of an impudent tossed-off radio idea that wasn’t that funny to begin with.
On those terms, YOGA HOSERS is surprisingly good! I found its initial peppiness so engaging that I was rooting for it, even as I saw the train head off the cliff; I felt for those two deadpan pretty blond teen girls going down with it. YOGA HOSERS may be self-indulgent, but it’s not conceited about it, a real plus. If MOOSE JAWS, the promised (threatened?) third film in Smith’s “Canadian trilogy” becomes a reality, more “aboot”s and girls singing, and less bewildering Nazi gobbledygook, please. Smith is an idiosyncratic force of nature to be reckoned with; he’s brought pleasure into my life for over twenty years now, so I’m solicitous of his welfare. I know he’s bounced back from misfire projects (such as the still-unfunny MALLRATS and that godawful COP OUT) with renewed energy and ambition that resulted in two classics, CHASING AMY and RED STATE. HOSERS has a clumsy, pasted-together chumminess that isn’t unappealing — I like it much better than both RATS and COP OUT — but I hope he gets non-pothead Mosier or someone to give him an honest, sober assessment of his extremely weak third-act next time. But I’ll be there, whatever Smith comes up with.
Yoga Hosers is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, on-demand and NETFLIX.