Movie review in the Friday, March 26 Oregonian....
With "Jersey Girl," writer/director Kevin Smith has single-handedly created a brand-new film genre -- the Chick Flick with Poop Jokes.
The long-delayed movie (you can blame "Gigli" for that) stars Ben Affleck as a Manhattan PR hotshot saddled with single-parent duties after his wife (Jennifer Lopez) dies in labor. It's being billed as something of a departure for Mr. Smith, who enjoys geek-king status for a series of comedies ("Clerks," "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back") mixing comic-book references, scatological humor and paragraph-spewing, pop-literate slacker heroes -- including the stoner set's Hope and Crosby, Jay and Silent Bob.
"Jersey Girl" is Smith's first film without a Jay-and-Bob appearance, and it certainly lays on a trowel of Oxygen-channel sentiment missing from the director's earlier films. But reports of the death of Mr. Smith's potty mouth have been greatly exaggerated. This is the sort of movie about a single dad that traffics in jokes about diaper rash, complete with full-frontal diaper removal; that shows a 7-year-old girl sitting on the toilet; that features colorful cursing in front of children; that thinks "meeting cute" means having Affleck joust with a sexy video clerk (Liv Tyler) when he tries to rent porn while his daughter browses the children's section; and that features -- in the movie's funniest scene -- Affleck's daughter (Raquel Castro) mounting a production of the cannibal musical "Sweeney Todd" for her school's talent show.
All of the above will appeal to fans of Smith's earlier films -- scatology is, after all, what this writer-director does best. It's less certain whether that same audience will embrace the larger, sappier story, which concerns Affleck's character learning how to raise his daughter and re-build his life after burning all his bridges in the PR business.
Smith's "Jersey Girl" script embraces certain TV-movie clichés with a weirdly naïve enthusiasm -- at its worst, the film plays like a non-magical version of "The Family Man" written by one of those tiresome people who thinks they're the first to discover the joys of parenting. This is especially true of the first act, which clunkily dispatches of Lopez; her death scene plays out in front of a weirdly bright hospital curtain that makes it look like she's dying on the set of a 1970s game show. (Was that scene really shot by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond?) And Affleck has a cringe-inducing scene where he talks to his infant daughter, crying and saying lines like "I'm gonna be the best daddy in the world." Really.
All that said, something surprising happens to "Jersey Girl" the minute the movie flashes forward seven years and Castro takes over as Affleck's grade-school-age daughter: The whole enterprise suddenly becomes rather charming. This has little to do with the script and everything to do with the cast -- particularly Affleck, Tyler and Castro, who have a warm chemistry that melts away much of the ill will engendered by the first half-hour. Even the sentimental rock songs on the soundtrack -- the rickety crutch of a movie that doesn't trust itself emotionally -- get a little less intrusive. By the time our heroes take the stage at the school talent show, warbling about a barber who slashes throats and eats the victims, you may find yourself laughing and, against the screenplay's will, caring.
(100 minutes; rated PG-13 [on appeal] for language and sexual content including frank dialogue) Grade: C-plus