Clerks II

3 stars


5th August 2006

Clerks II is a good movie. Unfortunately, it is also a prime example of just how creatively stunted Kevin Smith truly is. It's frustrating because the film is every bit as clever, witty, and perversely fun as the original, but therein lies the problem; throughout the movie, there's a sense of "been there, done that." There are signs of life, but for the most part it reeks of Smith retreating back into his comfort zone after the critical and commercial failure of Jersey Girl, his sole attempt at breaking out of the mould he had forged for himself with the Jersey 'trilogy'. It's as if he was so wounded by the reception to what was obviously a very personal project that he felt his only recourse was to make a movie that did little more than combine elements from what are arguably his two most successful films, Clerks and Chasing Amy.

Set a decade after the first film, Clerks II opens with Dante (O'Halloran), still unmotivated after all this time, arriving at the Quick Stop to start his shift, only to discover to his horror that the store is engulfed in flames. Suddenly, Dante's comfortable existence is thrown into turmoil as he and his best friend, Randal (Jeff Anderson), are faced with the daunting prospect of unemployment. Rather than take stock of their dead end lives and try to improve both themselves and their situation, they take the easy route and settle for jobs at the local Mooby's fast-food restaurant. While there, Randal spends his time mercilessly picking on his co-worker, Elias (a hard-core Jesus freak who loves the Transformers and Lord of the Rings), and engaging in verbal sparring matches with the clientele. Dante, on the other hand, is pining for his manager, the vibrant Becky (Dawson, who has never looked better). Unfortunately for Dante, any relationship he might share with Becky is complicated by the fact that he is miraculously engaged to a gorgeous but controlling woman (Jennifer Schwalbach), and the two have plans to move to Florida, where a cushy life awaits. Oh, and of course, there's Jay and Silent Bob, fresh out of rehab and selling weed in front of the store, only now extolling the virtues of the Holy fucking Bible while they do so.

Jeff Anderson as Randal in Clerks 2The film's biggest strength is Smith's trademark snappy dialogue; it's bursting with witty observational humour, and spot on pop culture witticisms. Unfortunately, the humour sometimes works against the film in that the vast majority of it is of the juvenile, internet message board variety, and may very well be lost on more mainstream moviegoers. For example, there is a scene in which Randal engages in a Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings debate with both Elias and a particularly rabid fan of Hobbits that sounds like it could have been transcribed almost verbatim from the talkback section of Ain't it Cool News (of course, in Smith's hands the dialogue is hilarious as opposed to sad and pathetic). Then there's the infamous donkey show sequence and the porch monkey exchange. These sequences are at once utterly offensive and completely hysterical in a "Did I just see/hear what I think I just saw/heard?" sort of way. The problem is that these scenes feel like they exist solely for the sake of shock value, and as such they feel a bit perfunctory and tacked on. These scenes will no doubt alienate and offend a lot of people. Of course, Smith doesn't really need to worry about alienating audiences, because there's a good chance that no one outside of his legion of hardcore fans will see this film anyway.

The film does tend to wander a bit toward the middle, and it occasionally loses its way. Some of the tangents are charming and fun (the dance sequence in particular is perhaps the single most joyous and effervescent moment to ever appear in a Kevin Smith film), but others are simply a waste of time (the go-kart sequence, for example). For the most part, though, the film is pretty tightly plotted and edited, and it cruises through its 97 minute running time at a quick but comfortable pace. The performances from the leads are all over the place, ranging from so-so to fair. O'Halloran and Anderson haven't shown much growth in their abilities since 1994, but it's not that much of a problem since they know these characters inside and out (though to be fair, they do both demonstrate some fine acting chops during the climax of the film, a moment that very closely echoes the climax of the original film). Anderson in particular is perfectly suited for the snarky and emotionally retarded Randal, a fact which becomes readily apparent during his verbal dick-swinging contest with Jason Lee's character (gotta love that Earl Hickey moustache). Smith and Mewes play Jay and Bob way over the top, but not to the point of annoyance. Their performances capture the appropriate level of buffoonish idiocy.

While Clerks II is indeed a worthy successor to the original indie smash, it would be nice to see Smith stretch his wings and put his abilities to the test on a film that doesn't fit into his particular style, regardless of whether he succeeds or fails. Smith seems to be all too aware of his own abilities, and is comfortable to rest on his own laurels, and it's clear that he's definitely at his best when working within this particular idiom. It's where his strengths lie. Unfortunately, it also serves as a glaring illustrating of his weaknesses as a filmmaker.

More:  Comedy  Sequels
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