smithLast weekend I intended to get a hold of Jersey Girl and figure out just what the heck happened to Kevin Smith. I didn’t get a chance, but I still want to work on this dilemma – I mean, this guy was one of the faces of indie filmmaking, he was one of the hopes not only of people who like interesting and personal films but also geeks. And how often do those two crowds get together?

But his career since Clerks has been spotty at best. While Chasing Amy is a bona fide great film that builds on his first picture’s promise, he hasn’t done anything even remotely up to speed since then. And he has come across time and again as more interested in ancillary marketing than making a movie that’s good on repeat viewings.

Now he comes to a crossroads in his career – Jersey Girl, his attempt at a more mature, serious film, bombed out. He used to have a ceiling on what his movies would gross in theaters, but now it looks like he has no floor. It seems to me that, panicked, he has retreated back to his first success, making a sequel to Clerks.

Now, if he hadn’t made Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and if he hadn’t set Dogma in the View Askewniverse, I would welcome the return. The idea of catching up with the Clerks characters ten years later is an interesting one, if those characters and their world didn’t feel bled dry of relevance by cartoons, comics and toys. If Smith had gone forward as a filmmaker and not just tread water it would be fascinating to keep revisiting these autobiographical characters, with Dante a low-rent Antoine Doinel. But as it is, this all smells like desperation, trying to reconnect with a target audience Smith fears he lost by making a J Lo movie without enough fart jokes.

In the end I think Smith has a lot in common with George Lucas, who has cast his shadow over Smith’s whole career. Both are very stunted filmmakers who seem almost imprisoned by their own characters and worlds, and especially by their fans, who are unwilling to journey outside of a safety zone.

At any rate, Smith was supposed to start filming Passion of the Clerks (a joke title that is already far too dated) this January, but as he explains on his site, things have been held back. "[W]ith all the Miramax/Disney stuff going on, we’ve been delayed," he says, expecting an April start date.

Of course this wouldn’t be the first time that a Clerks-related project fell apart, but since Smith has shown his unwillingness to take new challenges by dropping out of The Green Hornet, I don’t know what else he would do, besides his long-talked about direct to video Clerks cartoons.