One of the Sundance Film Festival’s favorite sons returned to Park City on Sunday night, as writer-director Kevin Smith debuted “Yoga Hosers,” the second film in his Canada-based True North trilogy and the most bizarre movie of his 22-year career — a real feat coming on the heels of “Tusk.”
Smith has a long history at Sundance, where he launched his career with “Clerks” in 1994 and sold himself “Red State” at a controversial public auction in 2011. He returned to the Library Theater with critics in his crosshairs after spending the last several years insisting that he is less interested in pleasing them than himself, which is entirely his prerogative.
“Yoga Hosers” was borne out of a fun scene in 2014’s “Tusk” that featured Smith’s daughter as a convenience store clerk (natch!) alongside star Johnny Depp‘s own daughter. The teenage Colleens played by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp (in a breakout performance) made such a strong impression with their scene-stealing turn that the girls were given center stage in “Yoga Hosers.”
This time around, they’re forced to partner with Johnny Depp‘s wacky man-hunter Guy Lapointe to find out what’s up everyone’s ass — literally — all over town.
When they’re not buried in their cellphones, jamming out with a tatted-up drummer (Adam Brody) in the backroom of their convenience store or making their parents absolutely miserable, the Colleens are obsessing over boys — especially “aboot” one dreamy high school senior played by Austin Butler (“The Shannara Chronicles”). Tyler Posey plays the guy’s buddy, but to say anything more about their characters would spoil the surprise.
Longtime Smith fans will relish callbacks to some of his famous lines of dialogue, including “I’m not even supposed to be here today” from “Clerks” and “I don’t want to die in Canada” from “Tusk.” Eagle-eyed viewers will even catch a reference to Posey’s role on MTV’s “Teen Wolf.”
Smith’s take on the high school movie is a welcome addition to his filmography, and it might have been more interesting had the story stayed in that world. However, halfway through things take an unfortunate detour involving a Canadian Nazi who’s out to kill art critics with the help of his mustached army of miniature bratwurst clones called Bratzis. We’re not making this up, folks!
Smith can barely take the proceedings seriously himself, as not only does he move around and multiply Guy Lapointe’s signature mole, but the film’s German villain (Smith’s podcast partner Ralph Garman) becomes a gifted celebrity impressionist, explaining his unique evil using a variety of celebrity accents that range from Al Pacino and Sylvester Stallone to Arnold Schwarzenegger and the original Batman, Adam West.
“Yoga Hosers” was a true family affair, as Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, produced the film with Liz Destro and Jordan Monsanto (wife of Silent Bob’s old pal Jason Mewes, who has a cameo). She also played a supporting role along with Lily-Rose Depp’s mother, Vanessa Paradis.
The film also reunites the cast of “Tusk” — Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez. But without an actor as talented as Michael Parks to anchor the film, it drifts and gets away from Smith, who himself returns as an actor (see photo below) after staying behind the camera for “Red State” and “Tusk.”
As the Colleens’ yoga master, Long uses his natural charm to wring a few laughs out of a recurring Yogi Bear joke, while Smith also relies on established comedy veterans such as Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne and “SNL” star Sasheer Zamata to provide extra laughs.
Elsewhere, keep an eye out for a fun cameo by Stan Lee, who also appeared in Smith’s “Mallrats,” as well as an appearance by Kevin Conroy, who voices Batman in WB’s straight-to-DVD animated movies.
Though Smith has insisted his goal is to have fun making movies, not impress reviewers, he seems to be carrying a chip on his shoulder in “Yoga Hosers,” which takes direct aim at critics, especially during a scene in which the elder Depp calls them “mean.”
“Tusk” may boast a weak 40-percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it happened to be a very effective thriller with real heart lurking beneath the blubber. The critical thrashing clearly took a toll on Smith for him to address it so blatantly in “Yoga Hosers,” but he needn’t worry. By now, the veteran filmmaker has proven he can take a licking and keep on ticking.
In fact, the director discussed his struggles during a lengthy introduction that was pure Smith. “I’ve failed so much in my career and it has led to so much,” he said. “Failure is just success training.” He then regaled the audience with a series of Sundance-related anecdotes, one of which included a spot-on impression of Harvey Weinstein when he wants to buy a movie at the festival.
Smith also pointed out that “Yoga Hosers” stars two girls and was produced by three women. He advised the crowd to “surround yourself with women when you make a movie” since it comes easy to them given the hardships they face each day.
Premiere attendees received a “Yoga Hosers” comic book that fleshes out the world of the Colleens, who will return once again in “Moose Jaws.” Smith told TheWrap earlier on Sunday that “Moose Jaws” will be his next film and complete the True North trilogy.
Regardless of how the reviews turn out, “Yoga Hosers” certainly played to the midnight movie crowd and Smith’s loyal fan base. Yes, the movie is weird and its commercial prospects may be challenging — even more so than a movie about a human walrus — but it’s bound to sell on the strength of Smith’s name alone. His loyal fan base practically guarantees a distribution deal, though “Tusk” buyer A24 may be an unlikely suitor this time around.
In the parlance of the Colleens, “Yoga Hosers” is kind of basic, but it is 100 percent Kevin Smith through and through, and for some people, including his many fans, that will be enough.
– DOAT Podcast (@DorkOfAllTrades) July 12, 2015