On the outside, Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers looks like a return "home" for the filmmaker, once again back telling a low-budget big screen tale about two slackers working in a convenience store. Going into the movie and expecting something akin to the days of the View-Askew-neverse would be a mistake, however, as rather than being a pleasant homecoming, it's instead a representation of how different Smith's storytelling has become at this point in his career.
A sequel to Smith's 2014 feature Tusk, and the second film in what has been dubbed the True North trilogy, Yoga Hosers centers on the two new clerk characters the writer/director introduced in the previous film -- Colleen C. (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen M. (Harley Quinn Smith). Stereotypical teen millennials, they pass through life glued to their phones, constantly complaining, doing yoga, playing in a punk band, and working at a Canadian convenience store called Eh-2-Zed (one of the movie's many, many Canada jokes that wind up being run into the ground).
Following about 45 minutes of exposition detailing the lives of the Colleens and the people in their lives, the two girls suddenly find themselves thrown into a homegrown Nazi-driven revenge plot featuring living bratwursts called Bratzis (all played by Kevin Smith) that like burrowing in peoples' butts.
Watching the film, I found myself repeatedly thinking about one particular sequence in Smith's first feature, Clerks. In it, Dante (Brian O'Halloran), Randal (Jeff Anderson) and a stranger (Thomas Burke) stand around debating the ethical dilemma that's packaged with the obliteration of the Death Star while it's still under construction in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The scene doesn't particularly stand out from a direction standpoint, almost entirely captured from a single angle with a stationary camera, but it does illustrate everything that made Smith's early work fantastic: his ability to inject his work with thoughtful and funny examination and debate about elements of the everyday world, from movies to relationships to religion.
The sequence came to mind not because of any direct comparison, but because of a current disconnect. You see, Yoga Hosers features no semblance to the work of the filmmaker who made a movie as great as Clerks (or Chasing Amy or Dogma), as fun and smart commentary-laced adventure has been replaced by a half-baked high concept idea that lacks any kind of pacing discipline, character development, or humor geared at anyone over the age of 13.
From the macro perspective, Yoga Hosers feels like it was based on one very specific, and not fantastic, idea (specifically Nazi clones made of bratwurst attacking a Canadian convenience store), and this ends up having serious repercussions on the narrative and pacing of the film. Most of the movie is comprised of scenes that either feel like filler made to kill time and get the script to feature length, or like exposition dumps. There are multiple musical sequences that last way too long. Additionally, Yoga Hosers spends an unusual amount of time crafting scenes around multiple characters who wind up getting a maximum of three scenes each (and most who get only one scene).
Having such a diffuse ensemble creates an additional problem in Yoga Hosers, as no character other than the Colleens and Johnny Depp's Guy Lapointe (the actor's version of Inspector Clouseau, who first appeared in Tusk) are featured on-screen long enough for audiences to create any kind of meaningful connection with them. The movie tries to stress the importance of each of these random individuals with Scott Pilgrim-esque graphics that appear along with their introductions, but it's ultimately not even worth trying to read all of the quickly flashing words, because they wind up adding very little to the plot of the film. As a result, the first and second acts of the movie feel like they're packed with what amount to cameos instead of characters, as the talented group of actors including Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne, Genesis Rodriguez, Adam Brody and more are wasted.
It all comes back to the realization that Yoga Hosers feels underwritten and not thoughtfully made -- the opposite of the trademarks in Kevin Smith's earlier work. Not only does the movie completely lack the writer/director's aforementioned smart examinations of the everyday, but a number of sequences sound and feel entirely improvised, which is hard to understand given that Smith's greatest strength has always been dialogue. And while the filmmaker has made a career out of working with shoestring budgets, some of his choices in the new movie are utterly baffling -- including the utilization of some jaw-droppingly bad CGI (why the film couldn't use actual sauerkraut instead of yellow pixels meant to represent sauerkraut whenever a Bratzi explodes is completely beyond me). By the time Smith's notorious battle with film critics gets shoehorned into the plot, and you're listening to a villain monologue in the voices of multiple celebrity impressions, you begin to wonder if the number of days it took to write the Yoga Hosers script can be counted on two hands or one.