Director : Kevin Smith
Screenplay : Kevin Smith
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Brian O’Halloran (Dante Hicks), Jeff Anderson (Randal Graves), Rosario Dawson (Becky), Trevor Fehrman (Elias), Jennifer Schwalbach (Emma), Jason Mewes (Jay), Kevin Smith (Silent Bob), Kevin Weisman (Hobbit Lover), Jason Lee (Lance Dowds), Earthquake (Husband), Wanda Sykes (Wife), Zak Knutson (Sexy Stud)
Once upon a time--around 2004, to be exact--writer/director Kevin Smith attempted to “grow up.” He declared that Jay and Silent Bob, the comical slacker-vulgarians who had appeared in one form or another in every one of his films and had become his signature and, in his mind, albatross, were done. They would never appear in another movie. Smith then foisted Jersey Girl, his attempt at a “mature” movie on audiences, and its bland, saccharine sweetness landed with a heavy thud. Smith hadn’t lost his crude sense of humor (who else could cram so many references to pornography and masturbation into a PG-13 romantic comedy?), but he had nevertheless gotten lost in the kind of formulaic territory for which he was clearly ill-suited.
Thus, it’s not surprising that, two years later, not only have Jay and Silent Bob been returned to the silver screen, but they have been resurrected in Clerks II, a sequel to the 1994 low-budget, black-and-white talkfest that first put Smith on the map. When I heard that Smith was working on a sequel to Clerks, my first thought was that it was his ultimate act of penance--his cinematic apologia to all the hard-core View Askew fans who were left scratching their heads after Jersey Girl. It seemed like such an obviously defensive, borderline reactive, measure for Smith. “See?” he seemed to be screaming. “I haven’t changed at all!”
The good news about Clerks II is that it isn’t a simple retread of the original movie. The even better news is that Smith has taken some of the “maturity” that he tried to display so brazenly in Jersey Girl and actually made it work for him, rather than against him. Clerks II is just as raucous, rude, crude, vulgar, random, and shockingly funny as you would expect, but it is also surprisingly moving at times. For all its jokes about sexual positions and bestiality (err, excuse me, “interspecies erotica”), Clerks II is primarily a love story about the bond between best friends (shocking, I know.)
The best friends are Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), who, when we left them 12 years ago, were busy wasting away their twentysomething lives behind the counter at the Quick Stop convenience store. Clerks II opens with the literal burning down of the Quick Stop, which leaves Dante and Randal, now in their early 30s, slinging burgers and fries behind the counter of Mooby’s, a barely frequented fast-food joint. Lucky for them the customer base is so bare because it leaves them plenty of time to talk, talk, and talk some more.
Dante, the uptight, moralistic half of the duo, is engaged to Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach, Smith’s wife), a skinny blonde control freak who is whisking him away to Florida the next day so he can manage one of her father’s car washes. Dante has much better rapport, however, with Becky (Rosario Dawson), the manager of Mooby’s with whom he has a friends-but-more-than-friends relationship that is on the cusp of bursting into something much more.
Dante’s romantic trials, however, are ultimately secondary to his relationship with Randal, the brass, motor-mouthed id to his repressed superego. Randal is the guy who will say anything at any moment, and it’s hard not to like him for his simple candidness. Granted, he can be a jerk, particularly in the way he relishes tormenting Elias (Trevor Fehrman), the stammering, 19-year-old Bible Camp nerd who still kisses his mom good-bye when she drops him off for work. Elias is meant to be pathetic but endearing; unfortunately, he comes off as just pathetic, which makes Randal’s constant mockery of him a bit overbearing at times.
Smith crams the movie with seemingly random scenes (including one rather hilarious musical number) that allow him to plumb the depths of dialogue for its own sake. These range from discussions of the appropriateness of certain body parts touching during sex, to various pop-culture debates, including Transformers vs. Go-Bots and Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars (Smith clearly has issues with Jackson’s fantasy opus). There are a few brief cameos by Smith stalwarts like Ben Affleck and Jason Lee (obviously taking a day break from shooting an episode of My Name is Earl), as well as a great moment with Wanda Sykes in which Randal ill-advisedly attempts to “take back” a particular racial slur. And, of course, around the margins are lurking Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), who are newly reformed (they no longer smoke dope), but still the same (they continue to sell it, though).
As a director, Smith hasn’t changed much, although he continues to open up his visual repertoire to escape all those charges that he is incapable of moving a camera or framing a shot. At one point, though, he seems to be openly mocking such criticisms by shooting an argument between Dante and Randal with a vertiginous, Brian De Palma-esque spinning camera that is so blatantly overdone it might make the motion-sickness prone in the audience have to close their eyes.
There is a plot in Clerks II, and it builds nicely toward a climax in which police cars and fire trucks arrive at the Mooby’s after hours to find some decidedly irreverent activities transpiring, which lands everyone in jail where Dante and Randal can finally hash out their feelings for one another. It is one of the best scenes Smith has ever written, and it brings to mind the fine work he did in Chasing Amy (1997), in which he brought his no-holds-barred approach to genuine issues and let his characters expose themselves, warts and all. It’s a surprisingly moving moment, and in it we can see so many of Smith’s own emotional obsessions, from his fondness of (heterosexual) male bonding, to his conflicted feelings about the need to grow up, to his love-hate relationship with the state of New Jersey, which his characters are always trying to escape, yet are ultimately drawn back to. That alone says a lot about Smith and the crossroads at which he currently stands.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2006 The Weinstein Company