It's a sure bet that writer-director Kevin Smith knows that the disclaimer he added to the beginning of "Dogma" (rated R) pointing out that the movie is "a work of comedic fantasy" isn't going to get him off the hook with the Catholic church. Since he probably wasn't expecting his audience to be made up mainly of devout Catholics, I doubt he lost much sleep. But with an opening-weekend gross of nearly $8.7 million, a lot of other moviegoers are taking "Dogma" in--and trying to figure it out.

As someone who dutifully made her first communion and confirmation but hasn't been to mass in some time (these day I'm more at home in a laid-back Presbyterian church), it was hard to figure out just what I felt as I joined Smith on this wild ride. And who could blame me? It's a fine line between making a point and making fun, and "Dogma" seems to have a hard time making up it's mind just what it wants to do.

First there's "The Buddy Christ," a statue of a goofy, cheerful savior giving his followers a holy "thumbs-up." The film's fictitious "Catholicism Wow!" group wants to use him to replace the "depressing" crucified version Then there are Matt Damon (Loki) and Ben Affleck (Bartleby) as foul-mouthed fallen angels, Salma Hayek as a muse-stripper named Serendipity, and Linda Fiorentino (Bethany) as an abortion clinic worker who's angry at God and just happens to be Jesus' great-great-grandniece. Add to that Chris Rock as the forgotten 13th Apostle (he claims he was left out of the Bible because he's black) and recurring Smith characters Jay and Silent Bob (as prophets!?), and that's a lot to take in before you're even halfway through your popcorn.

As this ragtag team of rejects makes its way to New Jersey, whereLoki and Bartleby hope to take advantage of a loophole that will allow themback into Heaven and Bethany hopes to stop them (their re-entrance willhave cataclysmic repercussions), we eventually meet "the Man Upstairs." Ofcourse, "he" turns out to be a "she." That's not nearly as hard to swallowas the idea that God is a mute skee-ball fanatic with a strong resemblanceto Alanis Morissette and a fondness for doing handstands that show off herplaid boxer shorts.

Despite all that, "Dogma" makes some good points. Allthroughout the Bible God uses misfits and the woefully messed up to do Hiswork. It's a comforting characteristic that makes us fallible humans go,"Wow! If God can use that guy, there must be hope for me." The moviealso offers food for thought when Serendipity makes the accusation that"you people don't celebrate your faith, you mourn it." Add to thatBartleby's observation that humans have it pretty good, what with Godgiving us everything, yet some of us don't even believe.

Whatever you hold true, Smith's erratic, irreverent "Dogma"will have you reexamining it. And that's not a bad thing, since you'll nodoubt find yourself rethinking what's really important as leave thetheater. For a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, that's quitean accomplishment.

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