It’s difficult to review a movie like Yoga Hosers. It’s so deliberately made for a specific group of people who are immersed in jokes and references from the podcasts of Kevin Smith that one wonders who it can possibly appeal to anyone outside that circle. And to be fair, even from the perspective of someone who is an unabashed fan of those podcasts and listens to them every day, this film has some serious flaws in structure and pacing. Those outside the circle of fans for Smith’s podcasts won’t be won over, but there is an interesting reading of this film that could help to lend it a small crumb of artistic legitimacy.
Yoga Hosers emerges from an episode of “Smodcast”, Smith’s semi-weekly podcast co-hosted with longtime producer and friend Scott Mosier, specifically episode 288. In the episode, the hosts read a news story about a man from Edmonton, Alberta who was arrested for possessing an ancient Persian sculpture that had been stolen from a museum. The man in question was a confessed fan of yoga, and his apartment was full of middle eastern-flavoured decor, save for a Star Wars toy that the ancient statue was apparently found resting upon when the police arrived. (Of course, the gentleman was also discovered to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana.) The title comes from a quip by Mosier, impersonating the police yelling through the suspect’s door, “Open up, you Yoga Hoser!” Smith found this phrase hilarious and proceeds, in the podcast, to almost choke with laughter and the two continue to riff on flaky Canadian stoners vs grumpy Canadian cops for almost an hour. (The first 45 minutes is actually more enjoyable, as Smith relates his newfound affection for football player and media personality Eric Cantona.)
The only specific component of the podcast, other than the title, to be rendered out in the film is the Yoga practitioner himself, reduced to a cartoonish caricature named “Yogi Bayer”, played by Smith loyalist Justin Long. Bayer is very much a supporting character, the guru to the two main characters, Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen MacKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith). The two Colleens (named after the wife of Gordie Howe, one of dozens of Canadian trivia references in this film) work at a convenience store called the “Eh to Zed”, and spend their days with their faces buried in their phones, or playing in their little power-trio band that alternately cranks out Ramones-influenced tunes or sappy ballads like “Babe”. The most important thing to the Colleens, at least at first, is to be invited to a party with Grade 12 boys (“Seniors” as one would call them in the US), and they are ecstatic to get such an invitation from cute bad boy Hunter (effectively played by Austin Butler). Colleen C.’s father (Tony Hale) owns the store, and is sleeping with the ditzy manager (Natasha Lyonne), but is excited that his daughter is growing up (“No boys,” he repeats to her when she tells him the news). Colleen M.’s mother (Harley Quinn’s real-life mom, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) goes a bit farther, supplying her daughter with a fearsome-looking switchblade named “The Mohel” (“It’s my date knife,” she explains). When the girls are called into work for the night of the party, this gives Colleen M. the opportunity to say, “I’m not even supposed to be here today!”, but it also allows the girls to invite the party down to the Eh to Zed. The boys do indeed show up and turn out to be rapey Satanists, intent on turning the girls into virgin sacrifices (“There aren’t any virgins left in Grade 12!” Hunter offers). Thanks to The Mohel, and the Yoga moves acquired from their sessions with Mr. Bayer, the girls make short work of their attackers.
Normally, we wouldn’t go so far into plot description, but we can in this case, because this plot line goes absolutely nowhere. Instead, the whole film is hijacked by small monsters that haunt the store and kill people by jumping into their rectums and exploding. (They look like bratwurst, wearing Nazi uniforms with Prussian spiked helmets, and are called “Bratzis”.) The movie takes a sharp turn into cartoonish fantasy, culminating in a James Bond ending featuring impressions by Ralph Garman, one of Smith’s other podcasts, “Hollywood Babble-On”.
The bad news is that Yoga Hosers, as with Smith’s previous podcast film, Tusk, takes forever to get going. There are endless dialogue and exposition scenes in the film’s first act that feel more like lectures (heck – one of them is literally a lecture, given at the girls’ school by a teacher played by Depp’s mom, Vanessa Paradis). In Tusk, the slow-burn worked much better, because it was all leading to a horrifyingly Lovecraftian climax, anchored by a solid performance from legendary character actor Michael Parks. In the case of Yoga Hosers, it just feels like one story ambles towards its end, and then a second takes over (involving Canadian Nazis — even more exposition) and building towards a climax that just doesn’t make it. Along the way, we get Johnny Depp himself, returning as Guy Lapointe, a Quebecois detective with an incomprehensible accent and yards of exposition. (Depp, for his part, is game, but he’s at his best reacting in the final sequence to Garman’s impressions, rather than spouting endless paragraphs to the Colleens.) The climax, too, is disappointing. Garman is a funny, smart and talented performer on radio and podcasts, but to see his impressions in this context is a bit embarrassing. And the action sequence that follows shows us nothing we haven’t seen before, although credit has to go to Smith for attempting to direct action, given his admittedly limited cinematic vocabulary. It’s a film that’s a real mixed bag and a jumbled mass of jokes and references, some of which work (Kevin Conroy has a hilarious cameo), but they’re buried in overlong scenes followed by arbitrary plot twists and an ending that feels flat rather than triumphant.
Probably the most interesting element here is something that other critics have pointed out, namely the fact that this film is written by a man in his mid-40s about two 17-year-old girls in 2016. It’s a Gen-X take on what it means to be a millennial, and for any interested member of that generation, here we have a fascinating peek into how our generation sees you. It’s interesting that there would even be such a difference between those of us in our mid-40s and modern teenagers, given that both generations grew up with computers, with the internet, with rock and hip hop music and many common popular cultural touchstones such as superhero movies. But Smith shows us some of the interesting little differences, like when Garman whips out an impression of Batman — but the Adam West Batman, and the girls don’t recognize it. (They do provoke a couple of laughs impersonating Christian Bale’s grunting.) Smith also spins laughs out of the girls’ attachment to their cell phones, having Depp chastise them when they whine about not having their devices after he frees them from prison. It’s not just about having a daughter (although one suspects Tony Hale is a stand-in for Smith, the emotional, soft-hearted, sentimental dad), but more generally about relating to the younger generation through popular culture. Admittedly, this theme could have been more thoughtfully and thoroughly explored, but it’s nice to see it here.
Yoga Hosers is not going to win Smith any converts, but it’s something that’s different and unique. Smith says today that for the rest of his career he’s only going to make “Kevin Smith movies” (or direct for TV, which he also enjoys). Yoga Hosers is certainly an example of that. No other filmmaker on earth would make this film, for better or for worse. It expresses Kevin Smith’s life and interests, just like Clerks did, all those years ago.