Movie Review: Clerks II

July 27, 2006 5:00 PM0 comments

When “Clerks” debuted in 1994 it was widely held as one of the finest films to emerge from the independent film ranks. Though it was released in only a limited number of theaters, the film garnered much praise from critics and took home awards from nearly every film festival. Many consider Kevin Smith’s low budget homage to the minimum wage convenience store employee as one of the most pivotal films of the early 90’s – bringing “indy” films firmly into the mainstream. It showed “Generation X” wasn’t just made up of brooding soul patch wearing twenty-somethings, sipping lattes in a Seattle coffee house. “Clerks” introduced us to the slackers of Generation X: convenience store workers who shirk responsibility in favor of pointless arguments.

When “Clerks” debuted in 1994 it was widely held as one of the finest films to emerge from the independent film ranks. Though it was released in only a limited number of theaters, the film garnered much praise from critics and took home awards from nearly every film festival. Many consider Kevin Smith’s low budget homage to the minimum wage convenience store employee as one of the most pivotal films of the early 90’s – bringing “indy” films firmly into the mainstream. It showed “Generation X” wasn’t just made up of brooding soul patch wearing twenty-somethings, sipping lattes in a Seattle coffee house. “Clerks” introduced us to the slackers of Generation X: convenience store workers who shirk responsibility in favor of pointless arguments.

It was also blissfully vulgar.

For many who went to college during the mid to late 90’s, viewing “Clerks” was as mandatory as cutting class to play ultimate Frisbee. The dialogue was sharp and intelligent while at the same time, sophomoric and inane. One moment might be spent pondering the hourly wage for janitorial services at various entertainment venues, only to be followed with an insightful exploration of one’s position in life. Most importantly, “Clerks” provided us with a set of “heroes” with whom we could actually identify. They were real, in that they spent vast portions of the day debating obscure aspects of Star Wars, rather than attending to their respective duties. They were anything but heroic, and did not particularly grow or develop during the course of the movie.

They were also delightfully vulgar.

In “Clerks II,” writer / director Kevin Smith returns us to the New Jersey suburb ten years later to see what happened to the Slacker Generation, now in their thirties. Have they grown? Have they moved on with their lives? Have they accepted responsibility? The answer is, thankfully, “no.”

After arriving at work to find the Quick Stop convenience store ablaze, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) find new positions working in the fast food industry (regular visitors to the Askewniverse will recognize the fast food franchise “Mooby’s” from Smith’s other films). Despite the change in scenery, Dante and Randal fall right back into their former routine: discussing absurd and taboo topics in front of patrons while providing a poor service to customers. Foul mouthed, yet lovable, pot peddlers Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) also set up shop at the fast food chain, providing even more familiarity to the new landscape.   

The plot primarily focuses on Dante, who once again finds himself in a love triangle, this time involving his fiancée, Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) and Mooby supervisor, Becky (Rosario Dawson). For Dante, Emma offers an escape from New Jersey and his life as a minimum wage clerk. Her family is wealthy, and willing to provide Dante with a house and a job in Florida. Becky however, represents friendship, love and the opportunity to be with someone who truly understands him. In the end, Dante is forced to decide which is more important to him; friendship and familiarity or the desire to start his life anew. 

Of course, the question most will be asking is “can the film stand up against the original?” The answer is: almost. Kevin Smith’s hallmark will always be his ability to fill 90 minutes with sharp dialogue and verbose banter. Unfortunately, in “Clerks II” some of the dialogue feels forced and as a result, falls a bit flat. However, while some parts of the script fail in comparison to the original, the humor is just as crude and vulgar as ever. Fans of the original expressed concern as to whether or not Kevin Smith would pull any punches in this, a wide theatrical release. “Clerks II” might not push the envelope as far as the original, but it certainly walks along the same path. Every joke teeters between uproarious laughter and “I can’t believe they just said that.” (The films two biggest laughs involve a “donkey show” and a truly disturbing reenactment of a scene from “Silence of the Lambs”)

As with the original “Clerks,” this movie is not intended for everyone. Those expecting the almost slap stick antics found in some of Smith’s other films such as “Mallrats” or “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” might be a touch disappointed. For fans of the original however, they should be pleased with the more “mature look” of the Slacker Generation. If they can grow up, perhaps it’s ok if we do the same. 

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