‘Too Fat for 40′: Kevin Smith kicks himself when he’s down

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As I watched a preview copy of “Kevin Smith: Too Fat for 40” the other night I couldn’t figure out if it was a comedy special or a cry for help.

The show debuts as a video-on-demand option on EPIX tomorrow night and is a gruesome experience for those of us who are fans of the gifted creator of “Chasing Amy” (below).

Smith caused a sensation on the film festival circuit 16 years ago with his no-budget comedy “Clerks” which was filmed in his New Jersey backyard with a few actor friends and went on to become part of the rise of the mighty Miramax Films.

Smith and Quentin Tarantino became idols to young filmmakers all over the world who dreamed of getting a big break with a little movie.

“Clerks” was rough in both style and content, but showed Smith to be a master of profane comedy — he was willing to go too far to earn laughs and he can now be seen as the godfather of the Judd Apatow sex farces that came along a decade later.

What Apatow did was smooth off some of the rough edges of the Smith movies and up the ante on the nudity.

I met Smith in 1997 when he came to New Haven to promote his terrific romantic comedy “Chasing Amy” which seemed to point him in a whole new direction — it was a smart sex comedy that took real risks in its portrayal of male-female relationships.

The filmmaker was riding high at that point — Warner Bros. hired him to draft a new “Superman” screenplay because of his love of comic books as well as movies. Smith was smart and funny and justly proud of the big step he had taken with “Chasing Amy.”

Nothing came of Smith’s superhero script and his career went into a tailspin from which he has yet to recover. Since the turn of the century, the filmmaker’s name has been on a series of duds (including “Clerks II” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”) and recently he made dubious news when he was thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight for being too obese to fit in one of the airplane seats.

“Too Fat for 40” recounts the embarrassing airplane experience but Smith isn’t a stand-up comic and he isn’t to transform his humiliation into comedy (the way Richard Pryor did again and again).

The writer-director has acted in a few films, but has been most effective in the small word-less role of “Silent Bob” that he has played in many of his own films.

“Too Fat for 40” was taped in Smith’s New Jersey hometown so he has a very sympathetic audience, but the laughter is not exactlty explosive as the enormous, sweating (and unflatteringly garbed) star repeats himself ad nauseam (using the phrase “and s–t” to end too many of his sentences), fails to score many laughs and then resorts to a namedropping Q&A session where he talks about working with Bruce Willis on the terrible “Cop Out.”

Let’s hope Smith is able to get back on track and put this unfortunate live show behind him.

Joe Meyers