Why the hell did Kevin Smith make Clerks II? The answer has to be one of those commerce instead of art things – the film goes nowhere beyond the first one, and the characters end up at a place only slightly different from where they ended up in the first one. In fact, much of the structure of this film is a weak echo of the original Clerks.
He certainly didn’t make Clerks II because he had a burning desire to tell a story about fast food – while Dante and Randal have moved from the Quick Stop to the local Moobys burger joint, the film has none of the insight that the first one had. Kevin Smith has been in a burger place, but that seems to be about it.
I suspect that he made Clerks II as a reboot. This is the film he should have made right after Clerks, or maybe right after Chasing Amy. The film doesn’t go out of its way to say so, but the implication is that the intervening Jay and Silent Bob movies – Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – simply never happened. The duo indicate that they have been standing in front of stores selling weed for the last decade, and in a film overloaded with Kevin Smith brand product placement the lack of Bluntman and Chronic paraphernalia is conspicuous.
So what’s he trying to do? Get back to his roots, mostly. Clerks II is filled with the kind of back and forth dialogue that got Smith noticed by the indie elite in the first place. The problem is that so much of it feels like wheel-spinning; the Return of the Jedi vs Return of the King argument doesn’t come across as the natural result of arguing nerds, it comes across as checking an item off a list.
The first item that Smith checks off the list is “pander to the internet.” The first half of the film is crammed with jokes that you could find on any message board, including CHUD’s. It’s interesting at first, but then you sense that even Smith loses interest in OMGLOLWTF humor by the time the film’s story kicks in.
The biggest problem with Clerks II is inherent in its very concept. At the beginning of the movie we see Dante Hicks opening the Quick Stop, only to find it in flames. It would seem like an act of God, telling him that it’s time to get his life together, but instead he gets a job at Moobys. The guy is over 30 years old, and he goes for a fast food job? In Clerks we could identify with the shiftless malaise that hits many young twentysomethings, but this time around Dante is just pathetic. It would have made more sense, and been more satisfying, to have Dante working in some kind of an office, but I guess Office Space has staked its claim to that arena.
Somehow Dante is rewarded for working at Moobys – he has a “beautiful” and wealthy fiancée, and they’re going to move to Florida together to start a new life. Smith’s wife Jennifer Schwalbach plays the fiancée, and the scenes of her making out with Dante – besides being movie-haltingly unbelievable – feel creepy, like we’re watching the Smith family’s fetish porn. “I like to watch,” maybe.
It’s easier to buy Randal working fast food (although it’s worth noting that these guys work at the least busy fast food joint in the nation). In the first Clerks I identified with Dante, but this time around I found myself feeling Randal. I think this is a bad thing that indicates poor personal development. Jeff Anderson’s dead pan delivery hasn’t changed much, although he’s thickened out (haven’t we all?). This time he’s upstaged by another employee, Trevor Fuhrman as Eleas, a hardcore Christian Transformers fanatic. At any rate, it’s still Randal’s unthinking antisocialism that brings Dante into conflict – this time between his fiancée and his manager at Moobys, who he might very well love.
It’s just as unbelievable that Rosario Dawson would fall in love with Brian O’Halloran, but she sells it. Sure, she’s unbelievably gorgeous, but Dawson grounds the character and makes you fall in love with her too. Sadly, she’s so good and so natural that her performance just highlights the stiffness of the two leads. It’s all worth it for her dance scene, though.
Oh yes, there’s a dance scene. And it’s really good. It’s the one time the film dips into a world that resembles the Clerks cartoon, and I wish it did so more often. Smith’s come a long way from the first Clerks, and the dance scene is a nicely shot example of it. It isn’t like the guy has suddenly developed Scorses-in-the-Goodfellas-era chops, but he’s more confident. And more playful.
Clerks II is mostly amusing, but it almost never gets really hilarious. There’s a pretty great bit about the phrase “porch monkey” that could have easily fit into the first film, but most of the rest of the gags are retreads or pale imitations of Smith’s own better work. I laughed, but not as much as I was supposed to.
Clerks II looked like a disaster, and it’s not. It’s diverting and it’s occasionally funny, but it never gets to anyplace new. At the end of the film when Randal and Dante are fighting about who ruined whose life, you get a sense of déjà vu. I understand that maybe these characters haven’t moved on, but there should have been a better way to show that. If the film is a reboot for Smith I hope it takes. It’s easy to forget that he was a legitimate indie darling at one point before he embarked on a more and more hackneyed career. If Clerks II gets him back on the trajectory that he seemed to be on in the early 90s, it’ll all have been worth it.
6.7 out of 10
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