Hard to believe that it's been two decades since Kevin Smith wrote and directed Chasing Amy, the Independent Spirit award-winning movie that cemented his status in the Hollywood spectrum after his surprise hit with the micro-budget, iconic Clerks. It's a legacy that he's struggled to chase and catch up to over the years, eventually leading to a big change in his filmmaking perspective that took his talents in an entirely different direction, where he refocused his creative energy towards ultra-inexpensive horror. Red State marked a flawed, yet thematically intriguing and uniquely disturbing shift in gears for Smith, one that suggested that maybe, just maybe, the writer/director had a whole new world of unique cinema looming underneath his baggy hockey jersey. That ends up being true, but in the wrong ways, leading instead into a sequence of bizarre pieces of work that reaches a culmination point with Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers, which swaps the director's remaining grasp on practical writing, both in story and dialogue, with very clear indulgence.
Not unlike the string of comedies that comprise Smith's Jersey-themed View Askewniverse, his latest horror creation takes place in the same cinematic universe as the one found in his previous film, Tusk, becoming the second in the writer/director's True North trilogy of Canada-centric flicks. We're immediately introduced to the "yoga hosers", the two Colleens, played by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp, the daughters of Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp. They're a fairly run-of-the-mill pair of teenage girls -- perhaps a wee bit too self-absorbed and ditzy -- who split their time between high-school, practicing yoga at a studio with their teacher, Yogi Bayer (a nutty Justin Long), and working evening shifts at the convenience store owned by the father of one of the girls. In the midst of preparing for attending a "senior party", the girls encounter a series of obstacles including serial killers, Canadian Nazis, and underground monsters, a connection of events that draws in famed "man-hunter" Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp).
Kevin Smith has routinely beaten critics to the punch in admitting that everything else in his body of work falls secondary to the creativity and behavior of his dialogue, where the aimlessness of his plotting and his indifference to cinematic flow are at the mercy of his characters' personalities. While his earlier works showcase how he's able to swing that to his advantage, where the evolution of the characters create their own sort of storytelling flow, Yoga Hosers provides an example as to what happens when there's not only any development in the characters' attitudes, but also a lack of genuinely likable traits. The combo of Smith's infuriating, "a-BOOT"-filled lingo and the unseasoned, albeit fleetingly sincere tempo of Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp's performances render a pair of heroines comprised entirely of repellent quips and snark, whose whiny attachment to their phones and tunnel-vision enchantment with their grungy stockroom band and ridiculous yoga practice vaults past societal observation and into obnoxiousness.
Without endearing characters as a distraction, the attention naturally moves onto the atmosphere and storytelling holding everything together, and that manages to be even more exasperating than the attitudes that writer/director Smith imposes upon the Colleens. Granted, in terms of cinematic inventiveness, Smith does have a few playful tricks up his sleeve: he employs colorful cinematography within the Eh-2-Zed convenience store -- a deliberate antithesis to Clerks? -- and cute videogame-inspired title cards to introduce the characters, almost like Scott Pilgrim in vivaciousness. A shame that it's all wrapped around an absurd progression of events involving murderous Satanists, the history of Canadian Nazism, and anthropomorphic sausages who have their own ... uh, backwards method of killing people, all of which stumble into the Colleens' lives with little rhyme or reason. Instead of luring someone into this bizarre universe of the True North, Yoga Hosers haphazardly tosses its weirdness together in ways that'll make someone question what the hell kind of fever dream they're enduring.
Kevin Smith doesn't lack for experience when it comes to the strange and unusual, either; after all, he's the one responsible for bringing to life a rubber poop monster and a climactic duel featuring laser swords made of bongs. Silly as they might be, those things properly fit with the stories in which they took place, whereas the inanity of the Colleens' counterproductive yoga instructor, the concept of killer "Bratzis" -- bratwurst Nazis; no, really -- and the movable, multiplying mole upon Johnny Depp's unconvincingly made-up face come across as Smith just tossing eccentric ideas at the wall with confidence that they'd stick. Turns out, neither the humor nor horror hit the mark in Yoga Hosers, resulting in an insufferably esoteric oddity that doesn't have a modicum of the charm it'd require to disguise its vanity project desires. It's hard to believe that this is the same filmmaker who lovingly crafted the cult favorite View Askewniverse, even the same filmmaker who made the maligned Jersey Girl, which looks like an award-winner standing next to this over-baked misfire.
Video and Audio:
Yoga Hosers shows up with a beautiful transfer from Invincible Picture that's pulled down by a few basic flaws. As one can expect from a current digitally-shot film, there's a lot of immaculate detail to be spotted in the 2.35:1-framed, 1080p image, from the group between bricks and strands of blonde hair on the girls to fuzz and zipper ribs on a jacket. Skin tones are immaculate, warm yet natural, while shades of blonde hair and other gradations in things like beard hair are well pronounced. Depth in the image also stands surprisingly firm, seem in little things like water bottles and the contours of cell phones, but mostly visible in the contours of faces during both close-ups and pulled-back, in-motion shots. The exceptional contrast levels help as well, enhancing the depth of the image while also preserving every detail in the shadows. The problem areas arise in fine detail in motion, like the shingles on a roof or the movement of the little details of a cell phone case, which reveals a noticeable degree of aliasing and shimmering. It's a prevalent hiccup that mars what would be a pretty striking treatment otherwise.
Unfortunately, we're not working with a high-definition audio treatment for Yoga Hosers, limited to a 5.1 Dolby Digital track that's pretty darn hit and miss even for a standard-definition track. On the positive side of things, dialogue stays exceptionally clear from start to finish, frequently employing the lower-frequency channel for added heft and naturality. The musical numbers performed by the girls enjoy even stronger balance and clarity, alongside the credible clash of drumming and cymbal crashing. Subtle sound effects employ sharp, pleasing clarity, whether it's the ding of a cellphone notification or the thunk of a plastic flask and the shattering of a glass bottle. There's enough activity going across the channels throughout the track, but the dispersal of the sound makes it feel like a bloated two-channel track, with overly extended sound effects simultaneously filling the front and back channels. It's a functional standard-definition track, but the lack of surround dynamism weighs it down.
Somewhat uncharacteristic for a release of a Kevin Smith film, Yoga Hosers with only a single extra: a Behind the Scenes (7:26, 16x9 HD) featurette, featuring interviews with Kevin Smith and his cast. They discuss the energy on set, the friendship between Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp, and the nature of the film elevating two girls as the heroines of the story. There's also a Trailer (2:44, 16x9 HD).
Kevin Smith's True North series of films may've gotten off to an intriguing start with the flawed yet inventive Tusk, but the second installment in this proposed trilogy, Yoga Hosers, stands out a monumental stumble in what's arguably the director's most unsuccessful film to date. Few laughs, fewer scares, and all the wrong kinds of attitude surround the misadventures of a pair of BFF clerks-turned-heroines hoping to save the world from Canadian Nazi bratwurst monsters, a zany premise that loses its luster quickly while hearing the Colleens use the word "basic" for the umpteenth time. This is stream-of-consciousness weirdness without cinematic flow, and without a strong purpose beyond appealing to an insular audience that's largely confined to Smith's loyal followers. As a fan of Kevin Smith's earlier output, it's disappointing to see his style of clever dialogue and human observation slashed to this. Skip It.