I’ve long thought that Kevin Smith was one of the most promising working American filmmakers. He has occasional shortcomings as a director, but his screenwriting skills more than make up for it. He’s one of those all too rare guys who writes movies both intelligent and entertaining as hell, and with a consistent personal voice to boot. From the black & white indie hit “Clerks” to the underrated John Hughes update “Mallrats”, the twisted, touching romantic comedy “Chasing Amy” and the thought-provoking religious satire “Dogma”, Smith has explored many different themes and styles while sticking to some familiar elements: a New Jersey setting, recurring actors and characters, dialogue alternating from heady discussion to dick and fart jokes, and an affection for slackers, potheads and comic book loving geeks.

Now with “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back”, he’s (supposedly) putting an end to his Jersey series with one final run through the ‘burbs and their foul-mouthed inhabitants. He’s been keeping his ever growing devoted fanbase up to date all through the process from script to shoot to editing to test screening to marketing at his View Askew message board, and his leitmotiv has been that this was one for the fans, a throwback to the inconsequential broad comedy of “Mallrats” as opposed to the smarter, more issues-oriented material he’d been tackling these last few years. Well, while it’s true that his latest film is gloriously juvenile, it’s also packed with shrewd satire and it even has a heart somewhere in all the profanity and silliness.

The plot (what there is of it) has the titular characters cross the United States, from the Quick Stop in Red Bank, New Jersey, to Miramax studios in Hollywood after they learn that “Bluntman & Chronic”, the comic book based on them, is being adapted for a live action feature. The problem is that, not only have they not received any money for this use of their likenesses, it also seems that the project is getting bad buzz on the internet and Jay and Silent Bob are becoming laughing stocks. Hence, off they go to stop the production and save their reputations. So basically, this is yet another road movie which moves more or less aimlessly between colourful locations, characters and situations. The trouble with such movies is that, often, the lack of a clear dramatic storyline makes for an uneven, inconsequential mess. Well, “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” is a mess, but what an enjoyable mess it is!

Kevin Smith has created the most laugh-out-loud movie in years. A lot of the humor will go over the head of the occasional moviegoer, but if you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies every week and spends way too much time on websites like Ain’t It Cool News, Rotten Tomatoes or Cinemarati, this flick’s for you; try and spot every inside joke, cameo, parody and reference if you can! This very richness makes the movie pretty hard to review without just spoiling gag after gag. I’ll try to avoid this and content myself with telling you what’s good about it. One big thing, for the Kevin Smith fan at least, is how the film is a journey back through the View Askewniverse, bringing back Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), who are still working as clerks or, more accurately, talking to each other while occasionally taking care of a customer. We also meet again with the irresistibly smart-ass mallrat Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee), who now owns his own comic book store, and with comic book artist Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) who might still be chasing desperately his Amy while his former inker/tracer Banky Edwards (also played by Lee) is making the big bucks in L.A. with the characters they created together.

Jay and Bob also make new friends, most notably Justice (Shannon Elizabeth) and her girlfriends Missy (Jennifer Smith, Kevin’s super cute wife), Chrissy (Ali Larter) and Sissy (Eliza Dushku). Just there, how can you not love that? These chicks are hot and they know it, and Smith knows it and takes full advantage of it. Yet while they’re mostly sex objects, they also play a big part in the film. Shannon Elizabeth especially, who has a romantic thing going on with Jay (of all people!), is surprisingly funny and charming here; turns out that there’s more to her than the fantastic breasts. The movie also features Seann William Scott, playing the anti-Stifler, as well as Jason Biggs as his “pie-fucker” self who stars in the Bluntman & Chronic film-within-the-film with Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek. The scene with these two is delightfully self-deriding, as is the one which has Ben Affleck and Matt Damon shooting “Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season”. “Applesauce, bitch!”

In the not so good department, I’m having a hard time fathoming how Smith managed to make the usually great Chris Rock unfunny and obnoxious, and I found some of the parodies to be not particularly clever or funny. The spoofs of “Scooby Doo”, “Star Wars”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Scream” and “The Fugitive” don’t go anywhere and are only somehow interesting on an eye candy level, and for seeing Mark Hamill himself back light-saber fighting and SNL’s Will Ferrell as an idiotic Wildlife Marshall chasing Jay and Silent Bob after they steal an orang-utan. You read right, there’s a monkey in the movie, which has to make up for the occasional misses, right? If it doesn’t, then our heroes do. Smith, wonderfully expressive without speaking as Silent Bob and, last but not least, Jason Mewes. You had to wonder whether the hilariously tactless, offensive, perpetually stoned Jay and his almost poetic raunchy rambling could sustain taking the front of the stage. Well, he does. In fact, Mewes is a strangely compelling lead, and that in itself is good reason enough to see the film. That is, if the fact that this is the funniest movie of the year hasn’t convinced you yet!