In his original ending to his 1994 debut film Clerks, Kevin Smith killed off the more responsible and enlightened lead character Dante, unaware of the eventual “View Askew” franchise the director would create. Thankfully Smith changed the movie before it gained mass appeal, because twelve years later Dante and the rest of his buddies still have something important to say as Kevin Smith returns to his humble origins with a true sequel to his first film, Clerks II.
Like the original film, the sequel follows a day in the life of Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), two simple store clerks. It’s twelve years later for the characters as well and, sadly, they haven’t really moved on. Both characters continued to work at the Quick-Stop until it burned down, and then moved on to another low pay, low responsibility job at Mooby’s, Smith’s offering of the fast food industry. Also along for the ride are fan favorites Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself, natch) who have progressed a little further than Dante and Randal. The two still pedal marijuana outside the establishment where Dante and Randal work but they themselves have cleaned up, a nod to Jason Mewes own embracement of rehab no doubt. New to the mix is a fairly religious oddball youth named Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and the Mooby boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson). Although the two newbies join a cast of people who have great experience with Smith’s trademark dialogue, you’d never know they hadn’t been in a Kevin Smith film before.
The film follows Dante’s last day working at Mooby’s alongside his long time friend. The underachiever hasn’t advanced much in life, but he has managed to hold onto a relationship long enough to get engaged. Because of his passivity and his fiancé’s ambitions, Dante and his lovely bride-to-be, Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach), are leaving New Jersey the next day to move to sunny Florida where Emma’s parents will give them a house as a wedding present and are giving Dante a Car Wash operation to run. While it’s a move Dante isn’t necessarily comfortable with, it is a change in life, which to Dante is a good thing. Yes, things are certainly looking up for Dante which, by Clerks standards, mean things are about to go dreadfully wrong.
At first I wondered about Smith’s attempt to re-enter the lives of the characters he first showed us on screen. After all, the message behind Clerks was slightly empowering and anyone who got that message certainly realized drifting along in a low paying clerk job wasn’t the way to go. In other words, if audiences originally related to the characters and got the point of Smith’s first movie they probably wouldn’t relate to them now. That’s where Smith pulls a bit of a bait and switch with the audience. This movie isn’t about empowerment. It isn’t about ambition or drifting through life. It’s about friendship, and the truth behind a pair of long time friends as they get ready to break up and go their separate ways. Smith realizes that close relationships, even those between heterosexual males, are based on love, and that means some form of pain will come as the relationship ends.
Of course, Smith hides his message behind his usual aptitude for base humor, something the audience should expect as the movie opens up fairly early with a discussion of the appropriateness of “ass-to-mouth” sex. The bar is set pretty low here however, so low that even close disciples of Smith may find themselves disgusted at some point between the bestiality (sorry, inter-species erotica) and a shot that offers more of Jason Mewes than most heterosexual males ever want to see of him. At the same time, Smith proves he is still deeply in touch with the geek crowd as conversations range from a debate between Lord of the Rings and Star Wars to a little bashing on the overly excitable Transformers crowd.
Clerks II is the logical progression for the characters we were introduced to twelve years ago and contains all the usual stuff you’d expect from a Kevin Smith movie. Unfortunately because parts of it sink to a new low, it’s unlikely Smith will win over any previously disenchanted audience members. However, if you’re the kind of person who can stick with Smith’s usual offerings and appreciate how clever Smith is when he can put together a scene in such a way that the crudeness of inter-species sex pales in comparison to the romantic situation a character is in, you’ll probably enjoy Clerks II.
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