|Starring:||Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, and Rosario Dawson|
Kevin Smith is a pretty blunt dude. I heard him quoted on television about “Clerks II” and he plainly said something like, I hope it doesn’t suck. You’d think that having made the film, he would know. Perhaps, he’s just too close to it to render an objective opinion. But my opinion is that “Clerks II” doesn’t suck. In fact, it is a major step ahead for the edgy filmmaker Smith, even though he had to step back to his debut material to do so.
The success of the original “Clerks” has become a story that is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Steeped is recent lore, Smith made “Clerks” for something like $26,000 an amount that was reportedly less than the eventual cost to acquire the rights to the soundtrack. In 1994, the film went on to gross $3 million and was a big success on home video. Even today, the film sells.
The characters in Smith’s first work have woven their way through his several films that followed. And his most memorable creations, Jay and Silent Bob, even got their own film in 2001. A couple of years ago, I sat down with Smith and talked about “Jersey Girl.” In that interview Smith admitted that “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” was merely done for “sh—s and giggles.” Smith like many of the characters that populate his films struck me as the kind of guy who refuses to sugar coat and spin. “Strike Back” was bad; “Clerks II” ain’t half bad.
“II” picks up some 12 years after the first film. It focuses on Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and his best friend Randal (Jeff Anderson) who spend their days working at the Quick Stop selling soda pop and cigarettes. “II” opens strong (and funny) with a disastrous event that causes Dante and Randal to change jobs, careers even. They take jobs at a fast food restaurant called “Mooby’s.” Mooby’s is the kind of place where the signature burger is a monster called “the cow tipper.” The entire joint is a parody of places like Hardees and lesser known establishments. Smith has great fun poking at fast food maintaining a realistic context. He cleverly works Mooby’s specialties into the vernacular of the characters (I’ll have a tipper, rolls smoothly off the lips). I’ll bet that Mooby’s clothing will find itself onto the backs of Smith’s faithful.
In “II,” Dante is still a dependable worker managing to keep his irreverent best bud on the payroll. Their boss, Becky, is played by a slightly dumbed down Rosario Dawson. Becky drives a 1960s era Ford Mustang and for some reason doesn’t have a boyfriend. Dante has recently become engaged and is planning to leave New Jersey with his fiancée. Now this fiancée, Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach), is one freaky chick. She looks good in a thirty something, road-hard-put-up-wet, “The L Word” kind of way. Smith gets a lot of mileage out of Emma’s appearance-sort of an aging sorority girl with freak tweak. In fact, it is hinted at that she might have an enlarged sex organ of some sort. I’ll stop there because Smith doesn’t hold back with dialogue that originates from a healthy pornography education (research had to be interesting).
So, understandably, Randal is unhappy that Dante has found a “perfect” gal to marry and will be moving all the way to Florida. But, if Dante must marry and go away, Randal is determined to throw him one memorable last night party. And the party has to involve something that they’ve never seen before- -his is where the donkey gets involved.
While Randal is planning the party, we are introduced to the remaining cast of familiar faces. Jay and Silent Bob have now migrated from the Quick Stop to Mooby’s and hang around the side of the building deriving their income from selling pot. But unlike the first film, Jay and Silent Bob are clean. It seems that they got busted and were sent to rehab having earned their sobriety credentials (Jay proudly wears a “Got Christ” t-shirt). Still, they sell marijuana and due to the proximity to the drug are constantly tempted. Jay, played once again by Jason Mewes, is a terrifically entertaining character. His sidekick, Bob (played by Kevin Smith himself), acts as the usually mute straight man to Jay’s outrageous behavior and constant jabbering. As entertaining as these two are, they are best used in fits and starts in supporting roles.
Problematic is Rosario Dawson’s Becky. Not only is she too good looking to take on the character, but her dialogue is indistinguishable from the other male players in the movie. In fact, in Kevin Smith’s world, men and women all use similar language each having an intimate understanding of one another’s obscure pop culture references. No doubt male viewers will fall in love instantly (if they haven’t already) with Dawson and her character, but I, frankly, found the catty interactions between the sexes a little artificial (but it IS a movie after all). Still, Smith has a marvelous gift for turning a good (if often goofy) phrase. For example, the debates about sex (oral and other) and race (a massive argument over the origin of the slur “porch monkey”) are funny and, at times, insightful.
More problematic is Smith’s commitment to opening the envelope. This involves following the climatic party scene to its extreme conclusion. A kinky donkey makes an appearance in what is classified within the film as “interspecies erotica.” Warning here, because this sequence is not for the puritanical among us-folks might even take this scene as a queue to walk out. This excruciating portion is followed by a slow scene that takes place in a jail cell (right out of Hollywood) in which Randal and Dante finally have it out. I found the jail scene to work on a genuine emotional level in a way that is a must for Smith fans. Lurking underneath Smith’s sarcastic material is something serious and, despite gushing amounts of babbling dialogue, the drama remains unarticulated until everything hits the fan.
“Clerks II” will charm fans of the series and may enchant new-comers. Given the age of the principal characters, thirty-something, and as a thirty-something myself, I really got into much of the debates in the film. The result was consistent entertainment, and even though the film’s third act is a little over-the-top, the movie as a whole works. And, Smith, “Clerks II” doesn’t suck, or if it does, it sucks in a good way. Smith fans might know what I mean.