Clerks II Review
I wasn't sure what to think when Kevin Smith announced he was making Clerks II. The original 1994 film, shot in black and white on a paltry budget, is one of my favourite comedies. It's also one of the most influential movies of the last 20 years. Smith's outrageous blend of adolescent humour, pop culture and Generation X navel-gazing helped revitalise the comedy genre and pave the way for the likes of the "Frat Pack", the Farrelly brothers, the Broken Lizard team and Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
On the other hand, the "View Askewniverse" had gotten a little stale. 2001's Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, which Smith claimed would be the last film to feature his two iconic stoners, was very funny in places but it took a wrong turn into silly, caper-movie farce. It seemed like the writer/director had run out of things to do with his characters. Jersey Girl, Smith's first foray into the Hollywood mainstream, was a charming, under-rated romantic comedy. It flopped largely because of the negative publicity surrounding its star, Ben Affleck, not because there was anything wrong with it. After that, Smith's decision to make Clerks II seemed like a retreat to safe ground. Not that a sequel to Clerks wouldn't be welcome, but how many more trips to this particular well could Smith could get away with?
Happily, the answer is: at least this one. Clerks II is better than I hoped it could be and it's Smith's funniest film since Clerks. Not his best perhaps - Chasing Amy and Dogma had a lot more brains and ambition - but for sheer number of laughs, this trumps all but his first movie. Like its predecessor, it's a simple human comedy packed with the verbal humour Smith does best and with the underlying heart that was missing from Mallrats and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. If Smith now decides that enough really is enough, then Jay, Silent Bob and the rest of the gang will have gone out on a high.
Ten years have passed since the events in Clerks. Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) still haven't moved on with their lives and they're still minimum wage slaves working in the retail sector but at least they've changed jobs... well, they had to, because the QuickStop minimart burned down. Now, like their spiritual brothers, Beavis and Butt-head, they're flipping burgers behind the counter at a fast food franchise. Needless to say, a pair of very familiar pot-dealers (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) hang around outside and occasionally come in to make conversation.
Randal is happy with his lot. For Dante however, the slacker chapter of his life is finally reaching its end. He's got engaged to perky, blonde Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) and she's about to drag him off to Florida, where her father has bought them a home and set his prospective son-in-law up with a car-wash franchise. That will bring an end to his friendship and flirtation with his sexy manager, Becky (Rosario Dawson). It will also finish his and Randal's lifelong buddyhood. Although he's too cool to show it, Randal is depressed that his best friend is leaving him. He is however planning an unforgettable send-off.
In its own, potty-mouthed, fanboyish way, Clerks II is a sweet-natured ode to male friendship, to living your own life, to recognising true love and to donkey fellatio. It's as much a companion piece to The 40-Year-Old Virgin as it is to Clerks. The ending is truly perfect and actually gave me a lump in my throat, although I realise the characters would laugh at me and tell me I'm gay for saying that.
As ever, Kevin Smith does a decent job as director but it's as a screenwriter that he shines. His comic dialogue is second to none, finding hilarity in subjects as varied as religion, racial epithets, ass-eating and (naturally) Star Wars. Smith's gift is to make his characters' monologues, conversations and arguments sound improvised, like things people might really say, only much funnier.
It's good to see Dante and Randal again. I've never understood why Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson haven't been in more films. Anderson is as funny in this movie as any comedy actor has been this year. His mimed version of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy is absolutely priceless. Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith are on typically fine form as Jay and Silent Bob - Mewes' tribute to The Silence Of The Lambs is another highlight - and the newcomers make good impressions. Rosario Dawson is hugely likeable and Trevor Fehrman, as a fellow burger-flipper, makes a good foil for Randal. There are also a number of cameos, including the usual Smith alumni and a couple of surprise guests.
The soundtrack is extremely well chosen. It's good that a whole new generation will hear "Naughty Girls Need Love Too" by Full Force (feat. Samantha Fox). Considering the scene it's playing over, they're unlikely to forget it in a hurry.