My World Of Flops is Nathan Rabin’s survey of books, television shows, musical releases, or other forms of entertainment that were financial flops, critical failures, or lack a substantial cult following.
For a man whose every-bro affability is the core of his populist appeal, Kevin Smith has proven to be an awfully divisive figure. The writer, director, podcaster, and marijuana enthusiast has picked countless inexplicable fights with critics and other detractors over the years, while generally maintaining the kind of intense online presence that engenders both great love and explosive, disproportionate hate.
Smith has mellowed out a little in recent years. Podcasting seems to suit Smith’s ramshackle, conversational sensibility as much, if not more, than films. Smith’s Tusk began life as a riff on a podcast, which is easy to believe, considering it’s about a demented old coot who tries to turn a podcaster played by Justin Long into a Frankenstein’s Monster-like walrus-man. It was a movie that really made you say, “Wow, that’s a movie about a man trying to turn a dude into a walrus.” No one can take the majestic pointlessness of having made a movie about a sadistically improvised walrus-man away from Smith. He wrote a walrus-man script and then he filmed it. Now it exists for perpetuity. Such is the wonder of Smith’s imagination.
Smith’s recent cinematic output feels indebted equally to the “whatevs,” anything goes low-stakes ethos of podcasting, and the even lower-stakes vibe of stonerdom. Podcasting and the stoner lifestyle both tend to not only accept a lot of self-indulgence and laziness, but to encourage them. Smith wasn’t exactly Mr. Self-Discipline even before he began podcasting hardcore and evangelizing widely on behalf of God’s sweet leaf, and he’s somehow only gotten sloppier since then.
Smith may not be a good filmmaker, but he is evolving and devolving in interesting ways. The jeans-shorts aficionado at least deserves credit for taking chances and making different kinds of underwhelming movies. 2010’s Cop Out was a ramshackle attempt to resurrect the mismatched buddy cop movies of the 1980s that at least had a certain lowbrow, retro charm about it.
2011’s Red State was an even greater departure, a lurid, ’70s-style grindhouse-style exploitation movie about Christianity at its most unhinged. It worked best as a vehicle for the hillbilly-operatic bigness of Michael Parks, a cult TV actor and country singer whose career Quentin Tarantino helped resurrect before he became Smith’s unlikely muse.
The aforementioned Tusk, which was released to dreadful box office and reviews in 2014, was godawful. Yet it at least provided another juicy showcase for Parks to compellingly overact, this time as a madman intent on making a walrus-dude out of Justin Long’s nosy adventurer. Tusk represented the first in what Smith deemed a “True North” trilogy of horror-comedies set in Canada. The fact that nobody seems to have liked Tusk did not keep Smith from working to complete this trilogy. In blatant defiance of God’s will and the wishes of critics and the public, he released last year’s critically eviscerated Yoga Hosers, a spin-off movie focused on a pair of smart-aleck convenience store characters played by Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith, the daughters of Tusk co-star Johnny Depp and Smith, respectively.
Smith took a chance casting his own daughter and the daughter of a friend and collaborator—especially that they’re in lead roles, and so early in their careers. But Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith are easily the best part of Yoga Hosers, although it would be more honest, if less flattering, to describe them as the least egregiously terrible component of the film. Depp and Smith have a fun, Romy & Michele/Cher & Dionne dynamic and light, goofy, appealing screen presences.
As an act of fatherly devotion, Yoga Hosers is a lovely gesture, the work of a parent understandably proud of his daughter and eager to share her talent with the world. As a motion picture, however, Yoga Hosers is a low-key abomination despite having pretty much all the right influences. If you were to tell me a midnight movie was coming out that was a cross between Clueless, a second-rate Gremlins knock-off, the 1966 Batman, Strange Brew, and Clerks, I would have said, “Wow, that sounds great!” If you were to tell me that the same film was written and directed by Smith, however, my response would change to, “Wow, that sounds terrible!”
Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith star as the Colleens, teenaged bandmates and co-workers at convenience store Eh-2-Zed, a safe space for hokey Canadian stereotypes. Over the course of the film the girls tangle with Canadian Satanists (who are like regular Satanists, only more polite), defeat a plague of Nazi sausage monsters created by a mad scientist with a weakness for pop-culture impressions, and bond with a super-hip black female principal. There’s a lot of backstory and exposition for the Nazi sausages, some of it delivered by Depp’s mom, Vanessa Paradis, in a cameo as a teacher, but none of it matters, at all. Nor is it interesting or entertaining. All it does is stretch this fluffy nonsense to feature length and provide a strange showcase for Tusk co-star Haley Joel Osment as Adrien Arcanda, a real-life Canadian fascist. Yoga Hosers ends with a musical showcase for the Two Colleens performing “Oh, Canada” in English and French, just to make it past the 80-minute mark. Just when it appears that the film cannot get any more self-indulgent and home-movie-like, Daddy Depp shows up in his awful old-man makeup for a wicked guitar solo.
Yoga Hosers is undone not by hate but by excessive, uncritical love. Smith combines what are clearly his two great loves in life: family and making terrible comedies. It’s a beautiful thing when a man is able to fuse his personal and professional life this way. It’s just a shame the result is borderline unwatchable.
Smith loves all of the film’s slapdash elements so deeply and so unconditionally that he doesn’t realize how threadbare and dire they are. First and foremost, Smith loves his daughter’s relationship with her friend, and their onscreen chemistry, so much, that he thought there was an entire film in it. There is not. There’s a cute 10-minute short film to be made from the Two Colleens, but not a feature film.
Smith is similarly so besotted by the innate hilariousness of Canadian and Canadian identity that he doesn’t bother to write actual jokes, instead leaning hard on what he feels is the sure-fire comedy gold of Canadians peppering their speech with “Eh” and “Aboot.” If there was any comic juice left in Canadians pronouncing words differently than Americans despite sharing a common language, Yoga Hosers exhausts it.
The writer-director is similarly way too overjoyed with his supporting cast. Justin Long delivers an embarrassingly broad, hammy performance as the Colleens’ yoga guru Yogi Bayer, who seems like a dithering, foul-mouthed idiot, but who genuinely seems to teach his students valuable skills. Long’s performance begs for the cutting-room floor, but Smith treats the journeyman comic actor like he’s Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove and every crudely improvised bit of foul-mouthed scatology must be lovingly preserved.
Long is still far more bearable than Johnny Depp in yet another sad exercise in bleary, tragicomic self-caricature. A good rule of thumb with Depp these days is that the more makeup he wears, and the heavier the accent, the worse his performance will be. Yoga Hosers, where Depp reprises his Tusk role as tracker Guy LaPointe, finds the troubled superstar wearing a beret, sporting caterpillar eyebrows and a crumb-catcher mustache. He mumbles French-Canadian nonsense in the thickest and most distractingly fake Canadian accent in a film whose humor is rooted in bottomless amusement in the way Canadian people talk. Depp was once a contemporary Marlon Brando. Today he is a performer who makes you pine for the comparable subtlety and understatement of the View Askewverse‘s Jason Mewes.
I’m definitely in the upper percentile of people obsessively fascinated by terrible horror comedies about tiny little monsters wreaking havoc. Yet there was nothing I found remotely enjoyable or satisfying about a subplot involving the film’s Nazi sausages (called Bratzis in what sadly passes as the height of the film’s cleverness and sophistication) running amok in the convenience store.
The Bratzis are astonishingly lazy creations. In a perfect world, the Bratzis would be like the new batch of Gremlins in Gremlins 2, a wildly imaginative assortment of monsters, riffing on a common model but branching out in a million different crazy directions. Instead, Smith chose the laziest and most obvious possible monster, a more or less exact cross between a kielbasa and Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes, and then made all of the Bratzis look and act like the same dumb Nazi cartoon.
Smith loves lazy, easy humor. Yet the more Smith tries to illustrate that Canadians with heavy accents and Nazis with equally comical accents are always funny, no matter how sloppy and half-assed the context, the more he proves that at this point Canadian accents and Nazis in unexpected contexts are almost never funny.
Yoga Hosers feels like a fan tribute to Kevin Smith that just happens to have been made by the man himself. It is an act of self-love for a man enraptured of the rinky-dink fictional universe he has created but also of his family. So even though Yoga Hosers is screamingly awful, it is a nice movie and that has to count for something. Judging by Yoga Hosers, Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith are both lovely, charming girls. But even at this embryonic point in their careers, they already deserve much, much better than Smith is able to give them, creatively speaking.
Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success: Fiasco