Clerks II (2006) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R  for pervasive sexual references, drug references, strong crude humor, pervasive language, and a scene of bestiality (easily pushing the bounds of NC-17)
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes, Jennifer Schwalbach, Zak Knutson, Jason Lee, Kevin Weisman, Wanda Sykes, Earthquake, Ben Affleck (cameo), Ethan Suplee (cameo)
Director: Kevin Smith
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Review published July 23, 2006

Hey kids! It's Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Chasing Amy) back where we want him, and where he said he'd never return -- the View Askewniverse.  After receiving a less-than-stellar reception for the only film that didn't fit into the wild and wacky world he had created, Jersey Girl, Smith did what all of his fans wanted him to do, crafting a sequel to the film that first put him on the filmmaking map, Clerks.  

This second movie opens with the Quik Stop in the midst of burning down, taking the RST Video store next door with it.  Without a place to work, two of the clerks of those stores, Dante and Randal, get a job at a fast food restaurant (first featured in Dogma), Mooby's.  Now approaching their mid-30s, some major changes in their lives are finally coming about, as Dante (O'Halloran, Mallrats) is set to get married and move to Florida to start a new life for himself.  This doesn't sit well with his best friend, Randal (Anderson, Now You Know), and even seems to be affecting his friendship with Mooby's manager, Becky (Dawson, Rent), with whom Dante had a liaison with one night, and despite her assertion that she doesn't believe in romantic love, she has some feelings that suggest they share more than a friendship.  The film takes place on Dante's final day at Mooby's, featuring crazy customers, conversations both heartfelt and banal, and, of course, the return of Jay (Mewes, RSVP) and Silent Bob (Smith) as the drug dealers peddling their wares in front of the store.

Although there may be few fans of Clerks that would claim Clerks II a better film, on a technical level, it is.  Obviously, many reasons stem from the shooting budget, since the first film was famously shot for about $27,000, while this higher profile sequel cost $5 million to produce.  With a higher budget, Smith is also able to get recognizable talent to appear in his film, most notably Rosario Dawson in a prominent role.  The amateur actors in the first film are now established comedians with better acting skills and funny ad-libs.  Smith is also a more seasoned director and editor, and even manages to put in a few poignant moments of drama within the framework of this otherwise ribald comedy.  Yes, it's a better film in nearly every way, although most fans would still claim the first film funnier.  Also, given the limited tools and talent that Smith had to work with at the time, Clerks was definitely a unique, remarkable achievement in independent filmmaking, while Clerks II is just another raunchy comedy.

Unlike many other critics, and certainly most fans, I don't consider the original Clerks to be a great movie, although I do think it is a very funny one in parts.  Try as I might to overlook them, there are just too many wince-inducing moments where either the comedy doesn't work or the direction and acting show their lack of experience.  I can take the film on its own terms, but I won't disregard my critical instincts just because the film was made on the cheap by a bunch of nobodies. 

Clerks II, despite better acting, directing, and production values, still has its share of weaknesses.  The writing is definitely still funny, and sometimes hilarious, but not all of it is.  Walk-on appearances by Ben Affleck (Man About Town) and Jason Lee (Dreamcatcher) are more of a novelty for Smith fans than they are humorous, while the characterizations are, as in many most of Smith's films, idealized in their respective character archetypes to the point of artifice.  There is also more of a central plot here, and it's a fairly predictable one, as you know that the flirtations between Dante and Becky are more than passing, and with him about to leave with ball-busting fiancée Emma (played by "Mrs. Kevin Smith", Jennifer Schwalbach), turns of events will be in play to make him rethink his life-changing decision.

At least the plot, such as it is, is kept out of the way throughout most of the film so that we can get more of what we pay our hard-earned money to see.  We like funny characters of very different natures interacting with one another in clever ways.  We like dialogue that sparkles whenever discussing beloved geeky pop culture phenomena like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, "The Transformers", and Silence of the Lambs.  We like the way Smith constantly pushes the limits of good taste, not afraid to dabble in humor that many people might find shocking, including exploration of racial epithets, depictions of bestiality, and an obsession with graphic sexual dialogue.  When Clerks II is funny, it is very funny, and as with the first film, fans will be quoting from the film's choicest bits for years.

Perhaps the biggest improvement of Clerks II over the original Clerks comes not through the addition of better players in the supporting roles, but in the very impressive acting by the two lead players, Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson.  Clerks had been the first movie for both actors, and unfortunately it did show at times, but in Clerks II, they manage to provide a great deal of depth and sincerity in their roles.   There are a few scenes of seriousness Smith has written in for these once wafer-thin characters, lamenting their squandered lives and readiness for maturity.  These scenes would give even seasoned actors a bit of a challenge, but O'Halloran and Anderson nail them cold, offering a touching and telling dimension to characters we previously considered only vessels for Smith to draw out funny dialogue.  Such serious moments would have seemed out of place in the first film, and without the talent in front of and behind the camera, they would have been rejected soundly.  In Clerks II, they are readily embraced as even the funniest of scenes, and represent the best the movie has to offer.

As funny as I found much of Clerks II, and of which I recommend to all fans of the first film, I can't quite go the distance in terms of recommending it without reservations to those not considered true-blue Kevin Smith fans.  His direction is still spotty, his humor scattershot, his characterizations not always genuine, and his awkward tendency to throw in background music just to have it do make for an uneven experience for those looking for something more than just a few very funny conversations.  As with every other Smith film, to properly appreciate Clerks II to its fullest extent, one has to overlook the inconsistent qualities, both in the level of humor as well as the execution. 

I suppose I am somewhat obliged to mention that some of this humor will likely offend the easily offended, especially in scenes where the characters discuss the racist qualities of the term "porch monkey" and a donkey show scene that will cross the boundary of good taste for most (which is precisely why Smith explores it with gusto).  As with the first Clerks, Clerks II is the perfect "water cooler" movie, where you go into work (or school) the next day, standing around and telling your coworkers and friends all about it, recounting the funnier and most raunchy moments with nostalgic relish.       

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo