The following review was originally published as part of our coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Yoga Hosers suggests another kind of path Kevin Smith may have found himself upon had he risen to prominence 10-15 years after Clerks forever cemented him as part of the ‘90s film school reject zeitgeist. It’d almost be unrecognizable to fans of Smith’s earlier work, who haven’t stuck around long enough to witness his transition to a filmmaker hell-bent on harassing the boundaries of completely unfiltered creative freedom. Thanks to his continued success, to say nothing of his self-reinvention as a relentlessly prolific podcaster via his Smodcast network (which is itself producing films now if Yoga Hosers’ opening titles are any indication), Smith has found himself in a rarefied space for any filmmaker, one where he’s able to make whatever film he wants, in precisely the way he wants it, with little to no outside interference.
The second part of what looks to be Smith’s “Canada trilogy,” Yoga Hosers suggests throughout that this might not be a good thing. Fusing Smith’s long-running penchant for gleeful, outlandish vulgarity with the genre movie fetish he’s developed in recent years, Yoga Hosers is a riot of tones and visual styles and ideas that never comes together into any kind of cogent whole, all offset by the overwhelming sense that Smith is making movies for himself and his family and friends and couldn’t really give a shit how they play for anybody else outside of his chosen audience. That attitude is what’s cemented his die-hard fanbase over time, but it’s also starting to really affect his ability to make an enjoyable film.
In a semi-continuation from the gleefully bugshit Tusk, Yoga Hosers turns a pair of one-scene characters from that film into its protagonists. Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) and Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) pass their time obsessing over pop cultural minutiae, the way Kevin Smith characters tend to, while working their way through high school as clerks of the Eh-2-Zed (“the Zed,” as it were), a Winnipeg convenience store. Yeah, we’ll come back to that. Anyway, the Colleens are soon forced to face down all kinds of problems that teenagers normally face, like crushes on older guys and bad minimum-wage jobs and the invasion of Winnipeg by a race of miniature Nazi sympathizers who bear a striking resemblance to half-cooked gas station sausages. That’s to say nothing of Colleen C’s dweeby dad (Tony Hale) being totally beholden to the whims of his obnoxious wife/Eh-2-Zed’s store manager (Natasha Lyonne) or their teachers’ demands that they part with their beloved, omnipresent smartphones for any length of time.
Let’s come back to the sausage Nazis, though. Yoga Hosers is ostensibly a horror comedy, but unlike the genuinely disturbing Tusk, here Smith is vastly more interested in the latter than the former. For all the Scott Pilgrim-minded CG violence, a motif the film spends much of its runtime poring over, Yoga Hosers is really just a hangout movie about a pair of BFFs who want to do yoga, post pictures on the internet, and never be apart from their phones or each other, ever. Because of this, anything in the film that doesn’t relate to them feels like what the film ultimately is: an idea inspired by a pot-fueled ramble on a podcast that nobody felt the need to pare down before bringing it into vivid existence. So the comedy almost feels accidental when it comes, largely indebted to the interplay between Smith and Depp as the leads, and it’s sporadically charming when they’re not instructed to deliver the kind of cringing dialogue that typically comes from a man in his 40s trying to write for teenagers, particularly when female characters haven’t always been one of the writer’s stronger suits.
While Yoga Hosers continues Smith’s quest to push himself into increasingly strange and uncomfortable directions as a filmmaker, it’s either too derivative or too malformed to work the vast majority of the time. Characters are introduced with Technicolor cutaways to faux-Instagram pages, stylistic approaches appear and disappear just as quickly, and at one point Smith even introduces a black-and-white flashback to provide some context regarding the Nazi imagery that the film crassly invokes for shock value without really having any idea what to do with it. That’s Yoga Hosers in microcosm: it picks up and discards motifs by the scene in a fit of ADHD filmmaking that might be more endearing if it didn’t feel so thinly conceived the vast majority of the time.
Smith’s strength has always been in character, not spectacle, so it’s disappointing to see Yoga Hosers get it about as wrong as he ever has. To reiterate, there’s a chemistry between the film’s leads that hints at a more entertaining film about a pair of whip-sarcastic young women facing off against cartoonish evil, but the success mostly ends there. Johnny Depp reprises his performance as the Inspector Clouseau-biting Guy LaPointe, and the most charitable thing that can be said about his aggressively obnoxious turn is that at least it fits better in context of this film than it did in Tusk. Every other character who pops into their world is more or less a stand-alone joke, from Hale’s oblivious dad to Justin Long’s hyper-Canadian yogi who teaches the girls the titular skills they need to defeat evil. In general, the film assumes that Canadian accents are inherently hysterical and goes to that well early and often until it gets deafening. And that happens way too early in the proceedings.
More than anything, Yoga Hosers feels oddly unoriginal for a film that constantly strains to assert its own warped individuality. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, Smith managed to make another movie about a pair of hyper-articulate, authority-hating convenience store clerks who go on misadventures and learn a lesson or two about friendship. Smith already broke that ground, and even went home again, and Yoga Hosers eventually finds itself with little to nothing new to say on the topic even as it flaunts its fresh, often garish new coat of paint. At times Smith has made interesting stuff from premises that feel like a series of escalating, button-pushing dares, but Yoga Hosers feels less like that and more like a desperate attempt to find something new out of well-trod territory. It’s all starting to feel like that lovely ending to Clerks II, but without the self-aware realization that the grass isn’t always greener on the more familiar side.