Clerks II Review

Following a couple of serious disappointments in the shape of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Jersey Girl, Kevin Smith gets back on track with Clerks II, a wildly funny sequel which is often just as good as the original, even if it lacks the freshness which made Clerks so disarming. What Smith has gained in technique – and that’s not a great deal – he has lost in novelty value, but when a film is as laugh-out-loud effective as Clerks II, that’s maybe not a bad thing.

At the beginning of the film, our heroes Dante (O’Halloran) and Randal (Anderson) get to work at the Quick Stop to find it in flames. Cut to a year later, and both of them are working at Mooby’s Fast Food joint, along with manager Becky (Dawson) and teenage Elias (Fehrman). Oh, and Jay and Silent Bob have also taken up residence outside. But all is not running smoothly – Dante is engaged to marry a blonde bombshell named Emma (Schwalbach) and plans to move down to Florida. During the course of his final day, his life does a 180 degree turn as he discovers the identity of his true love, sorts out his relationship with Randal, and gets to watch an overweight man fucking a donkey.

Kevin Smith is not, and probably will never be, a distinguished cinematic talent. His scenes are very simply staged and sometimes go on far too long – there are moments between Dante and Becky in the office which should have either been broken up or seriously cut back. But the advantage of this for a verbally oriented comedy such as Clerks II is that he never gets in the way of the actors and he allows them to build up a comic rhythm.

Indeed, along with his writing skill, an ability to get the best out of actors is probably Smith’s biggest achievement. Certainly, Rosario Dawson has never been as sheerly likeable as she is here and there are wonderful supporting bits from Jason Lee, Kevin Weisman and Wanda Sykes. I also have to point out the delightful monochrome tracking shot which ends the movie on an exquisitely poignant note.

But if Smith’s merits as a filmmaker are open to some debate, what is beyond dispute is his talent as a writer. He’s an absolute master of duologue and when he gets two characters sparking off each other, he’s just about unbeatable in current cinema.

There are moments between Randal and Trevor Fehrman’s appealingly wide-eyed Elias which are beautifully sustained, notably a rant against Lord of the Rings -
“Three movies of people walking to a fucking volcano” – and an extended discussion about the reasons Elias hasn’t had sex with his girlfriend; it’s all down to her ‘pussy troll’ which glories in the name of Pillow Pants. Elias – evangelical Christian, virgin and keen worker - gives Randal reason to be even more obnoxious than usual and Jeff Anderson glories in lines such as “I wanna see if a chick with a mouth full of donkey spunk swallows” and a running gag in which he manages to confuse Helen Keller with Anne Frank.

Smith pushes the envelope in terms of equal-opportunity offending. There’s a fabulous moment when Randal mistakenly uses the word ‘porch-monkeys’ in front of some black customers which leads to an in-depth discussion of the nature of the word and various other racial epithets. Elias’s religion leads to some memorable discussions about whether God created the Transformers and some eyebrows may be raised at the radiant Rosario Dawson debating the merits of going ass-to-mouth. Most striking of all, the climax offers an unusual display of interspecies erotica courtesy of ‘Kinky Kelly and the Sexy Stud’ – just remember that Kelly can be a guys name too…

But we know that Smith can do obscene comedy; what I find more interesting is his ability to suddenly spin on a dime and bring real emotion into what has hitherto been an artificial situation. This was particularly apparent in his best film, Chasing Amy, and it comes out again here in the two central relationships of the film; Dante and Becky and Dante and Randal. There’s a gorgeous moment which, admittedly, comes out of nowhere when Becky begins showing Dante how to dance and we get a production number in which lots of extras shake it down to “ABC” by the Jackson Five. The number itself is quite well done but what really counts is the look of absolute adoration which Dante gives Becky, managing to tell a whole story in itself. The resolution of this relationship is a bit hackneyed but it’s satisfying – Smith knows how to do audience pleasing romantic comedy and the climactic moments are explosively happy – helped, as is the whole movie, by a perfect array of songs on the soundtrack ranging from Motown to Soul Asylum.

As for Dante and Randal, theirs is a friendship based on being polar opposites – as Dante points out in the jail cell, Randal is chaos incarnate and, as such, he complements the restrained, thoughtful Dante. But, like Bob and Terry in The Likely Lads, they have an eternal friendship which will always survive any obstacle, even if at times it seems as if it won’t. There’s a surprisingly deep celebration of male friendship here which is above sniggering and platitudes and the way it cuts deep is shown in a shot of Randal staring at the ground when Dante goes off to look for Becky. One of the few times that Randal says anything sincere is when he says “I’m looking at a future which just sucks because you won’t be in it anymore” and the way Jeff Anderson says it, you believe it. In this respect, as well as in the Dante-Becky axis, Clerks II is a surprisingly sweet movie.

The Disc

As usual, Kevin Smith provides plenty of extras for his films and fans are unlikely to be disappointed with the 2-disc release of Clerks II. This R2 disc contains the theatrical version of the movie and I’m fairly staggered to report that it’s got a BBFC ‘15’ certificate despite being the most verbally explicit film I’ve seen since The Aristocrats.

The transfer is very good indeed, presenting the film in pristine condition. Colours and detail are both very strong and there are no problems with excessive enhancement, artifacting or grain. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also excellent, though most of the activity is based around the front channels and its mostly the music and occasional sound effects which activate the surrounds. The dialogue is absolutely clear throughout and that’s the vital thing.

On the first disc, there are three commentary tracks. The first is a reasonably serious one featuring Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier and the DP David Klein. This goes into plenty of detail on the technical side of the film and is dry but interesting. The second is completely the opposite in style being an ‘actors’ commentary which is rarely scene-specific but packed with filthy jokes, arguments, asides and outright irrelevancies. If you’re interested in gossip, you can find out which member of the cast was having sex with a make-up girl, how the star cameos came about and the morality of sleeping with your fellow cast members. It’s often a very funny track but if you’re interested in the making of the film then this might not be for you. The third track is an ‘Unused Podcast Commentary’, featuring Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier and Jeff Anderson, which was originally intended to be downloaded and listened to during the original theatrical release. This never actually happened but the commentary is quite engaging anyway and a nice compromise between the in-depth discussion of the first track and the rowdiness of the second.

Also on disc one is a brief introduction to the film from Smith and Mosier, some deleted scenes and ‘A Closer Look At Interspecies Erotica”. The introduction is dispensable and the ‘Closer Look’ is basically an interview with Zak Knutson, the “Sexy Stud”. As for the deleted scenes, there are 16 of them and they vary in quality from very funny to ho-hum. My favourite is Randal’s description of the difference between two bodily orifices.

The second disc contains a meaty, ninety-minute documentary called “Back To The Well” which goes through the making of the film from the post-production of Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back to the premiere. As with the similar documentary on the Clerks X DVD, this contains staggeringly honest contributions from Smith and Mosier and in-depth interviews with the cast and crew. Everything you could want to know about the film is contained within this documentary and it’s a model of what this sort of thing should be like. Amusingly, the relationship between the two men is not dissimilar to that between Dante and Randal – though, to the best of my knowledge, without the interspecies erotica. What’s intriguing too is how reluctant Jeff Anderson was to revive the role of Randal because he felt that the fans would hate the film for trying to do the same thing once too often. But the best thing about this documentary is the endlessly eloquent Kevin Smith who talks about himself with such openness that you’d believe anything he said.

This main feature is backed up by ten video documentaries, or ten ‘Train Wrecks’, which offer bite-sized looks at different aspects of making the film. Finally, we get a blooper reel which, for once, is quite funny.

The film has optional subtitles and, laudably, we get subtitles for all the extra features too.

8 out of 10
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Last updated: 27/05/2018 17:15:43

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