Movie Review ***1/2: The ...Clerks... Are Back with a Deep-Fried Passion
By Bogdan Fedeles
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Schwalbach,
Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith
“Today is the first day of the rest of our lives,” said Dante Hicks to his friend, Randal Graves, in the movie “Clerks” (1994), as they contemplated their stodgy existence as store clerks for a suburban New Jersey mini-mart. Kevin Smith’s first feature (both as director and writer), “Clerks,” was hailed as one of the boldest comedies of the decade, winning multiple nominations and awards; it became a classic for many. And “Clerks” first introduced the world to the characters Jay and Silent Bob, who have since become a unique and hilarious backdrop for several of Smith’s movies.
Although the original movie did not need a sequel, Kevin Smith decided to write, direct and produce the follow-up, “Clerks II,” primarily to fulfill a promise to his friend Jason Mewes (who plays the character “Jay”) under the condition that the latter give up drugs in real life. Luckily, unlike other mediocre sequels, “Clerks II” lives up to the expectations established by the original film.
The story picks up 10 years after the original movie, and the two protagonists, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), now in their mid-thirties, have to find a different job following an unfortunate fire that consumes the mini-mart. They become clerks at Mooby’s, a fictitious local fast food chain resembling McDonalds. Although the venue is radically different from the original mini-mart, their attitude towards customers and life does not seem to have changed much. However, their friendship is put to test by Dante’s imminent marriage to Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach, who is incidentally also Kevin Smith’s wife), and his plan to leave New Jersey forever and settle in Florida.
The movie introduces two new characters: Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a dorky, religious, teenage clerk at Mooby’s who becomes a prime target for Randal’s racy jokes; and Becky (Rosario Dawson), the hot manager who gets involved in an unusually close friendship with Dante.
While there are new characters, “Clerks II” draws much of its inspiration from the first film, as the plot is essentially an augmented retelling of the original movie. Excluding the initial transition and the coda, the entirety of the action takes place over the course of one day – the day before Dante is set to leave New Jersey forever with his fianc e, Emma. But what starts like an ordinary day at work quickly becomes a full-blown adventure, with Randal trying to throw the most memorable going-away party for Dante, who in turn tries to hide his uneasiness with the big turn his life is about to take.
Still, the overall arch of the plot is but a supporting frame which Kevin Smith fills with numerous satirical episodes aimed at criticizing almost every aspect of mundane life. The protagonists often engage in theorizing or philosophizing about diverse topics such as movies (with Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings being a particularly intense debate), famous writers, Internet blogs, TV ads, sexuality, drugs, and last but not least, the Bible. The results are hilarious, but beware the R rating of the movie; most of the jokes are not for squeamish audiences, especially when the arguments escalate and fluids start flying.
As in his other movies, Kevin Smith exaggerates the profane element surrounding his characters in every sense of the word. Smith depicts them as living in hopeless misery, no less for being gregarious. Yet the sacred is eventually revealed in the midst of the profane, when redeeming values such as friendship and love prevail, in stark contrast with the mundane reality of their setting.
By contrast with the first “Clerks,” which was darker and less obvious, “Clerks II” dares to depict a broader range of emotions by relying more on cinematographic techniques. While the pacing is brilliant, some of the scenes (the buddy-bonding episode or the dance montage) may strike the audience as overly cheesy and uncharacteristic of Kevin Smith. However, the intention is probably sarcastic, with the broad and inconsistent cinematography being a tool to mock the clich s of contemporary movies. An important (and obvious) detail to point out is that “Clerks II” is in color (the original was black and white). Since the color alone adds so much more liveliness to the characters, the whole movie is infused with the ironical contrast between the “evolved” appearance and the stagnant reality of the protagonists.
In addition to the inspired script and brilliant directing, the acting in “Clerks II” is also top notch. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson effortlessly resurrect their characters from the initial movie, making them even edgier than before, without over-acting. The supporting cast is also very convincing, especially Rosario Dawson in her portrayal of Becky, who is not only the woman mediator between Dante and Randall, but also their boss. Jason Mewes shines again as the frantic, perpetually stoned Jay, whereas Kevin Smith is hilarious as his enigmatic, quiet partner – silent Bob. The interaction of this dynamic duo with the other characters renews a metaphor from the previous movie: Jay and Silent Bob are the id and super-ego, watching over the ego of the movie, which is represented by the other characters. Their actions only incidentally affect the others, but often ends up giving them hope, and even, by the end of the movie, fortune.
I strongly recommend this movie, but only after you watch the first “Clerks”. It will make you laugh really hard, but it may also make you wonder. A movie such as this is always a welcome rarity.