CLERKS II (2006)
Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Trevor Fehrman, Wanda Sykes, Earthquake, Scott Mosier, Kevin Weisman, Zak Charles Knutson, Jake Richardson, Ethan Suplee, Jason Lee and Ben Affleck.
Screenplay by Kevin Smith.
Directed by Kevin Smith.
Distributed by Weinstein Company. 97 minutes. Rated R.
It’s open to argument, of course, but you could say that Kevin Smith’s 1994 film Clerks, filmed in black and white on a true shoestring budget, was the defining moment of the early 90s indie film movement.
What can’t be argued is that the caustically funny and casually crude film was the first to really capture the young people of a new generation – for all their junk-food-munching, video-game-obsessing, porn-watching, work-avoiding glory. These people were more comfortable talking blow jobs than feelings, more interested in cursing than conversing. It sounds a little disturbing, and it might have been if it wasn’t one of the funniest films of the decade.
We’re in a new decade now, though. The idea of some twenty-something guys stuck in dead-end jobs was charmingly realistic. Thirty-something guys in the same place just seems a little pathetic, doesn’t it?
Not that they are exactly the same place, in fact they are a little lower on the scale. The Quick Stop Market and video store where Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) used to work at is long ago burned down. Now they are toiling at a cheesy small town burger joint called Mooby’s.
At least Randal brings along the right attitude, his lifelong fuck-the-customer disdain for his own lack of motivation. Dante, on the other hand, has actually made it into a career, which seems sadder. Back in my own long-ago lost years of retail, there was a saying – the only thing lower than working at a fast food restaurant was managing one.
However, Dante has finally gotten his life together, or so it seems. He has found a sexy bridezilla fiancée (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith – real-life wife of the writer/director) who appears to be a nymphomaniac and has a rich daddy who wants to move them down to Florida and give Dante a house and a slightly better job running a car wash.
Of course, Dante is still the same Dante as he was a decade ago, meaning that he can’t leave well enough alone. He has fallen in love with his boss’ niece (Rosario Dawson), who is the sweetest, hottest nerd girl ever. And stretching credibility just a bit here, she actually seems to be totally into the slightly balding and overweight mid-thirties fast-food worker.
However, Dante’s complicated love life is once again the least interesting thing here. Much more intriguing are the daily hazards of menial labor, with Randal in particular again being the comic pulse of the film. Also, since these two are no longer the youth of today, we are introduced to the next generation in the form of a repressed teen Bible-school-taught Transformers-and-comic-book geek (Trevor Fehrman). The glee that Randal gets in trying to get a rise from the kid and contribute to his delinquency leads to some classic comedy.
There are also a few cameos by some of Smith’s star friends (Ben Affleck, Wanda Sykes, Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee) all of which are marginally amusing but not exactly earthshaking.
Smith does occasionally slip into Jersey Girl-style sappiness here, though. One particular scene which really stands out has Dante driving the streets at night, trying to make a monumental life decision. He comes to a red light next to a fancy restaurant. He looks into the window and sees a happy family eating together. A cute little girl at the table notices him watching them from the car and waves. Beyond the obvious fact that it is a horribly manipulative plot mechanism, it is physically impossible, or at least horribly improbable. She is in a well-lit restaurant. He’s in a dark car on a poorly lit street. She would not have been able to see him, beyond perhaps a vague shadowy figure sitting in the car. Also, how did she know at that very moment he needed some sign that he was prepared to be a father? Twelve years ago, Smith would have eviscerated such an obvious, ham-handed move. Now he falls into it a little too readily.
There is also an extended feel-a-thon in a jail cell which takes several minutes of fighting and emoting to essentially say the same things that the first movie did – much more economically and with much less pathos – in the short store-trashing brawl between Dante and Randal. In fact, the end of the movie skates dangerously close to swerving into syrup, but Smith is able to pull the whole shebang out of danger with a tasteless joke about vomit, race relations, The Lord of the Rings or interspecies sex.
Since the original Clerks, Kevin Smith has been toiling for twelve years (and five movies) trying to recapture the mojo which made his debut so intriguing. He has always lost out – either close misses like Dogma or Chasing Amy or complete disasters like Jersey Girl and Mallrats. Clerks II is not as good a film as the original. Not by a long shot. However, it’s still the closest we’ve seen into the fascinating zeitgeist of Kevin Smith in the years since. With Clerks II, Kevin Smith can go back home again. The place may be a little more settled, a little softer and a little more decrepit, but it’s still good to be home. (7/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 21, 2006.