It's open to argument, of
course, but you could say that Kevin Smith's 1994 film Clerks, filmed
in black and white on a true shoestring budget, was the defining moment of
the early 90s indie film movement.
What can't be argued is
that the caustically funny and casually crude film was the first to really
capture the young people of a new generation – for all their
junk-food-munching, video-game-obsessing, porn-watching, work-avoiding
glory. These people were more comfortable talking blow jobs than
feelings, more interested in cursing than conversing. It sounds a
little disturbing, and it might have been if it wasn't one of the funniest
films of the decade.
We're in a new decade now,
though. The idea of some twenty-something guys stuck in dead-end jobs
was charmingly realistic. Thirty-something guys in the same place just
seems a little pathetic, doesn't it?
Not that they are exactly
the same place, in fact they are a little lower on the scale. The
Quick Stop Market and video store where Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal
(Jeff Anderson) used to work at is long ago burned down. Now they are
toiling at a cheesy small town burger joint called Mooby's.
At least Randal brings
along the right attitude, his lifelong fuck-the-customer disdain for his own
lack of motivation. Dante, on the other hand, has actually made it into
a career, which seems sadder. Back in my own long-ago lost years of
retail, there was a saying – the only thing lower than working at a fast
food restaurant was managing one.
However, Dante has
finally gotten his life together, or so it seems. He has found a sexy bridezilla fiancée (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith
– real-life wife of the
writer/director) who appears to be a nymphomaniac and has a rich daddy who
wants to move them down to Florida and give Dante a house and a slightly
better job running a car wash.
Of course, Dante is still
the same Dante as he was a decade ago, meaning that he can't leave well
enough alone. He has fallen in love with his boss' niece (Rosario
Dawson), who is the sweetest, hottest nerd girl ever. And stretching
credibility just a bit here, she actually seems to be totally into the
slightly balding and overweight mid-thirties fast-food worker.
complicated love life is once again the least interesting thing here.
Much more intriguing are the daily hazards of menial labor, with Randal in
particular again being the comic pulse of the film. Also, since these
two are no longer the youth of today, we are introduced to the next
generation in the form of a repressed teen Bible-school-taught
Transformers-and-comic-book geek (Trevor Fehrman).
The glee that Randal gets in trying to get a rise from the kid and
contribute to his delinquency leads to some
There are also a few cameos by some of Smith's star
friends (Ben Affleck, Wanda Sykes, Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee) all of which
are marginally amusing but not exactly earthshaking.
Smith does occasionally
slip into Jersey Girl-style sappiness here, though. One
particular scene which really stands out has Dante driving the streets at
night, trying to make a monumental life decision. He comes to a red
light next to a fancy restaurant. He looks into the window and sees a
happy family eating together. A cute little girl at the table notices
him watching them from the car and waves. Beyond the obvious fact that
it is a horribly manipulative plot mechanism, it is physically impossible,
or at least horribly improbable. She is in a well-lit restaurant.
He's in a dark car on a poorly lit street. She would not have been
able to see him, beyond perhaps a vague shadowy figure sitting in the car.
Also, how did she know at that very moment he needed some sign that he was
prepared to be a father? Twelve years ago, Smith would have
eviscerated such an obvious, ham-handed move. Now he falls into it a
little too readily.
There is also an extended
feel-a-thon in a jail cell which takes several minutes of fighting and
emoting to essentially say the same things that the first movie did – much
more economically and with much less pathos – in the short store-trashing
brawl between Dante and Randal.
In fact, the end of the movie
skates dangerously close to swerving into syrup, but Smith is able to
pull the whole shebang out of danger with a tasteless joke about vomit,
race relations, The Lord of the Rings or interspecies sex.
Since the original
Smith has been toiling for twelve years (and five movies) trying to
recapture the mojo which made his debut so intriguing. He has always
lost out – either close misses like Dogma or Chasing Amy or
complete disasters like Jersey Girl and Mallrats. Clerks II is not as good a film as the original. Not by a long
shot. However, it's still the closest we've seen into the fascinating
zeitgeist of Kevin Smith in the years since. With Clerks II,
Kevin Smith can go back home again. The place may be a little
more settled, a little softer and a little more decrepit, but it's still
good to be home.
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Posted: July 21, 2006.