If Kevin Smith hadn’t been behind Jersey Girl, I wouldn’t have been interested. The thought of subjecting myself to Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, the no-longer entertainment-gossip-couple-of-the-year, for those of you living in the woods) would’ve brought flashbacks of their last cinematic fiasco, Gigli, but I’ve repressed that traumatic experience.

Even the promise of leading lady Liv Tyler’s apple-pie sweetness couldn’t dull the threat of more big-screen Ben-and-Jennifer-ness.

But then there’s Smith. A decade ago, he slipped through the movie industry’s back door with Clerks., a promising breakout for a novice writer and director. Made with little more than $27,000, Clerks. became a cult classic, a black-and-white film shot mostly in a convenience store and driven by the clever, frank and sexually-outspoken dialogue that would become Smith’s signature.

Smith’s hallmarks can still be found in Jersey Girl, but they’re softer. His usually piquant dialogue has become jokey and more reserved. Instead of Chasing Amy’s true, bittersweet grit, Jersey Girl’s fairy-tale fluff is whipped with Hollywood melodrama and romance. Its lampoon of the public relations industry has less bite than Dogma’s rather affectionate mauling of Catholicism or Jay and Silent Bob’s attack on Hollywood.

Affleck’s presence is predictable. He played supporting roles in Smith’s ensemble comedy, Mallrats, in Dogma and in the gonzo road trip Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. With Chasing Amy, Smith gave Affleck a chance as leading man, casting him against type as a comic book illustrator in a stumbling romance with a lesbian comic book writer; in it, Smith directed one of Affleck’s most credible performances. Years later, Affleck’s similar romancing of Lopez’s lesbian character in Gigli would flop.

Despite its Tinsel Town sweetness, Jersey Girl maintains a bit of the Smith edge. A highlight is Raquel Castro, cast as Affleck’s cute daughter. The kid is a casting agent’s perfect conception of the child Ben and Jennifer might have had.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].

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