Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Schwalbach, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith

MPAA Rating: R  (for pervasive sexual and crude content including aberrant sexuality, strong language and some drug material)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 7/21/06

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Review by Mark Dujsik

One could never expect writer/director Kevin Smith to recapture the magic of his debut film. Clerks came at just the right time. It was one of the breakthrough independent films of the early '90s that signaled the onslaught of independent film into the mainstream (an irony lost by many at the time and unsettling many today). The film could also in part be blamed for the overwhelming popularity and number of gross-out comedies throughout that decade, but, like the original Halloween was blamed for the birth of the modern slasher film without having any gory scenes in it, Smith's vision was all about the power of suggestion. It is also one of the funniest films of the 1990s. Now Smith returns to the characters and the world that brought him his success. So just how well or poorly does he do? Smith doesn't quite reinvent himself, but he does remind us why he was such a major talent from the start to begin with. Clerks II is a more than worthy display of Smith's ear for dialogue, pop-culture intelligence, and ability to push the envelope of decency to the breaking point, and, yes, it is utterly hilarious in an alternately gut-busting and wry sort of way.

Ten years after a fateful day working in a convenience store on a day he wasn't even supposed to be there, Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) is still working at Leonardo, New Jersey's local Quick Stop. That is until he opens the shutters one day to find the entire store ablaze after his friend and co-worker Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) left the coffee pot on again. A year later, Dante and Randal have moved up in the world and are working at a local fast food chain Mooby's (fans of Dogma will appreciate the return of the blasphemous golden calf). It's Dante's last day in Jersey, as he and his fiancée Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) are about to move to Florida to get married, live in a house bought by Emma's parents, and let Dante earn their living at her father's car wash. The problem lies with Dante and Randal's boss Becky (Rosario Dawson), with whom Dante shares an unspoken but once consummated mutual attraction. Randal isn't about to let his friend run off to the Sunshine State without an unforgettable sendoff, and his plan is one the town will undoubtedly be talking about for years to come.

We'll get to that plan and its payoff later, though, but for right now, let's keep to the less controversial material at hand. First, there are the characters. The Dante and Randal of the original film were Everyman heroes of Generation X: two guys with enough intelligence to do more but not enough common sense or motivation to move beyond their rent-paying job. They're smart enough, but the only sign is in how they discuss trivial matters—observational humor surrounding pop culture and stupid customers, two subjects that, thankfully for them, never disappear. There's a lot more of that material here, too. Just because ten years have passed and the venue has changed doesn't mean there's not a boatload of internet fodder and dumb people who want fast food. The difference is these are not two guys in their early twenties anymore. They are thirty-something, and they represent one of the biggest fears those in early twenties have: getting stuck in a dead-end job with nothing to show for it but a bi-weekly paycheck that barely pays the bills. Dante has the right idea but the wrong motivation we learn as we begin to get a better look at his relationship with Emma.

Randal, for all his blatant elitism, at least spots that fairly early on, and so does Becky. Rosario Dawson is a welcome addition here, giving Becky a triple-threat of sexiness—physically attractive and intelligent with a deep longing for romance thinly veiled under cynicism. The other major addition is Elias, played by Trevor Fehrman, and when he pulls into work, driven by his parents, as they all whistle a happy tune together, we've pretty much learned all we need to know about him. He's excited at the prospect of an upcoming live-action movie about the Transformers, and his reasoning for never even kissing a girl by the age of nineteen has to be heard to be believed. Basically, he's a great character, and Fehrman helps make him funny because he's believable in what is an inherently satirical role. His obsession with The Lord of the Rings films also leads to Randal's hilariously succinct (way off-target, but still funny) summary/critique of them. And, yes, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) are back. Jay's been to rehab, and when he's feeling down, Bob likes to help him pay homage to Ted Levine's infamous "tuck it in" scene in Silence of the Lambs. The scene stops short and then has the payoff after it's been forgotten about.

This may sound all cheery and inoffensive, but make no mistake—the film is raunchy, depraved, and not without stepping over more than a few social mores. Reports are film critic Joel Siegel loudly walked out of a press screening, although I've heard varying reports of when it happened. The first possibility involves a scene in which Randal throws out a string of racial slurs, and while the words are offensive, within the context of the scene, being offended by their use is a bit silly. Everyone around him knows he's wrong, and the point is he's an idiot. The second possible walk-out point is Randal's description of a donkey show. If you don't know what that is, you're probably not going to find yourself in the audience to walk out on the movie to begin with. Let's just say that the climax (which contains a trio of climaxes within it) pays off on Randal's description and his promise of giving Dante a farewell present he'll never forget. The sequence is an almost sitcom-ish setup of multiple miniature disasters piling up one on top of the other (imagine an X-rated episode of "Three's Company"), but the scene is executed with such comic fervor, it transcends the simplicity.

Thankfully, Smith is smart enough to leave a lot of that central act to the imagination, but Clerks II has a lot of balls to even go there in the first place. What's also surprising is that the film actually has heart. It's ultimately about friendship and finding one's place right where one is without getting cloying, especially after the final shot puts the reality of Dante and Randal's situation back in focus. It's all about small steps for these two, and who knows, maybe in another ten years they'll start to get an idea of what they want to be when they grow up.

Note: The original film was released in 1994 and almost received an NC-17 rating for its language; I can only imagine the reaction the MPAA would have had to this film back then. How it managed to get the R rating even now is probably close to a miracle. Expect an unrated edition to be released on DVD (the new useless trend of our time) and probably ruin Smith's power of suggestion, making it just another imitator.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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