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Clerks II

Kevin Smith, USA, 2006

Rating: 3.1

 

Posted: July 21, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Kevin Smith seems like a smart guy. But if the unavoidable irony of Clerks II has occurred to him at all, you wouldn't know it from the movie itself. Smith intends the film as a parable about growing into one's adulthood and becoming a man: It finds Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran), the likeable slacker from 1994's Clerks, working his last shift as a wage slave before driving to sunny Florida to marry an improbably attractive blond whose father wants to set him up running a car wash. It's his chance to make something of his life -- to quit using a cash register to hide from the unknown.

And so to make a movie about shaking free from the familiar and the complacent, Smith -- fresh off the disappointment of Jersey Girl -- returns to his comfort zone, the scene of his earliest success. (Are you seeing the irony yet?) More to the point, he dons the outfit of his onscreen alter ego Silent Bob once more, and shoots a laid-back movie more concerned with popular culture (which he simultaneously mocks and reveres), deviant sex (ditto) and juvenile humor (no mockery here, just reverence) than with plot, theme or (heaven forbid) nuance.

Which isn't to say that Clerks II isn't funny or enjoyable -- it is. But one can't escape the feeling that Smith, like Dante, has stuck around this particular world for far too long, and has, perhaps without even realizing it, outgrown it. The stale repartee about the etiquette of going "ass to mouth"; the leaden, contrived debate about Star Wars vs. The Lord of the Rings; the mean-spirited zeal with which Dante's borderline-sociopathic best friend Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) torments an unseen paraplegic and a fresh-faced, virginal co-worker; all of these elements feel as stale as day-old French fries.

Speaking of fast food, about as close as Clerks II comes to evolution (besides its washed-out color, in contrast to the original's grainy black-and-white) is the fact that the Quick Stop convenience store, and the video store next door to it, have burned to the ground, so Dante and Randal now work at Mooby's, a burger chain that's apparently in dire financial straits. How else to explain that only a handful of customers come in during the full day depicted in the film? Or the fact that the same skeleton staff of four works from open to close?

That staff of four includes the aforementioned virginal geek Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and manager Becky (Rosario Dawson), who's so buddy-buddy with Dante she gets him to paint her toenails in the office in the middle of what would seem to be the lunch shift. Dante slowly comes to realize he's in love with her, not his bossy, vacant fiancée (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, the director's real-life wife) -- except, you know, he's already committed to moving to Florida and starting a new life. These two women embody Dante's choice: settle for the sure thing that's an awkward fit, or take a chance on what's right in front of him.

The idea that pasty-faced Dante would find himself in the middle of a triangle involving not one but two nominally "hot" women (Schwalbach Smith seems the quintessential trophy wife, while Dawson exhibits a goofy charm that has heretofore escaped this reviewer) is a stretch, but looking to a Clerks sequel for logic is a fool's errand. But while we're at it: Isn't it convenient that drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) have chosen that very same Mooby's to hang out in front of all day now that the Quick Stop is gone? Or that Becky doesn't feel the need to chase them away?

Admittedly, it's difficult to stay consistently critical of Clerks II -- eventually, you can't help but give in to scatological fervor and let out a healthy laugh or two. And when a bona fide dance number breaks out, you have to give Smith props for pushing his own boundaries just a bit.

But those moments are never enough to overcome the film's fifth-grade fascination with its own potty mouth, its tonal schizophrenia (in its color palette and its broad humor, Clerks II hews closer to the cartoonish world of Mallrats than its predecessor), its drawn-out exchanges or Smith's tin ear for dialogue. (The actors do the best they can, but you begin to see why Anderson, in particular, hasn't been flooded with Hollywood offers, when his audition tape consists of nothing but Smith's clunky prose. His delivery is a bit wooden, to be fair, but you're curious to see what else he can do.)

It wouldn't be sporting to reveal how Dante's dilemma ends, but suffice it to say that it allows him the best of both worlds (if not both women). It's a serviceable ending for an intermittently enjoyable film, but one leaves hoping this is the last time, at least for the foreseeable future, that Smith attempts to have his cake and eat it, too.

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