Clerks II Review
By Joe Lozito
All Clerk and Some Play
I know I'm opening a proverbial Pandora's Inbox by admitting this, but here goes: I was never a huge fan of the original "Clerks". While I fit squarely into its geek/slacker demographic when the 1994 film was released - and I completely understood and appreciated its love for all things obsessively nerdy - I found it talky, stilted and dull. There. Let the flame war begin. That said - and for what it's worth - writer-director Kevin Smith has definitely grown on me over the years. "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy" were throwaways, but with 1999's daringly frank "Dogma"
, Mr. Smith showed that he could actually tell a story that had a purpose and, better still, a point.
Perhaps after 2001's equally enjoyable "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
", Mr. Smith realized he has the most fun when he's tweaking the characters he created in the original "Clerks". It comes as no surprise then to find that the sequel, the unimaginatively-titled "Clerks II" (what happened to "The Passion of the Clerks", Kevin?), is not only Mr. Smith's most accomplished movie to date, it's also his most mature.
That's right, I said it. Kevin Smith is growing up. And so are his characters. In order to propel another film about directionless slackers, Mr. Smith deals with the one thing that will strike fear into their hearts: change. As "Clerks II" opens, it seems Dante (the goatee'd half of the Dante/Randal duo from the original) has gotten engaged and plans to move to Florida with his soon-to-be bride. This news sends Randal into a full-on tailspin on the road to acceptance.
The acting in "Clerks II" is still entry-level, full of awkward pauses and redundant lines ("what? here? really?"), but the addition of Rosario Dawson injects a lot of life into the proceedings. Aside from Ms. Dawson, there's not much acting going on in the film. Mr. Smith excels at getting natural performances from non-actors. This time around, however, I was impressed by Jeff Anderson, who continues his role as Randal. Mr. Anderson, who seems determined to not
parlay these movies into an acting career actually carries the film well. It's not so much that he's a good actor, but he has an effortless screen presence. Compare his scenes with the way Brian O'Halloran struggles as Dante.
Kevin Smith is like a nerdier Richard Linklater. Both writer-directors can sustain entire films with their uniquely observant, savvy dialogue. But where Mr. Linklater tends to ponder the more metaphysical whys and wherefores of life, Mr. Smith's films are firmly grounded in the cultural zeitgeist. From the "Star Wars" versus "Lord of the Rings" debate to the interspecies erotica fixation, it would be easy to think that Kevin Smith hasn't changed a bit in these twelve years. But if you look beneath the non-stop sex talk and bestiality obsession, you'll find a slight message. No, Mr. Smith has learned a lot in twelve years and, by the end of the film, there's actually some momentum driving the story. There's even a very funny conversation about racism and, if you can believe it, a musical number and, sadly, a montage. And all of it works in some odd way. Change is okay if you're true to yourself, the film tells us. Now seeing the change in Mr. Smith's films, I'd have to agree.