“The Passion of the Clerks”
Who would have thought twelve years ago that the small indie film Clerks would be a success, considered a classic, and eventually spawn a sequel? I don’t think even writer/director Kevin Smith would have thought he’d be working in Hollywood let alone having all that occur. Alas, it did. While a movie that I love, I have to say there were many reservations going into the announcement of a follow-up to Smith’s debut feature. It was a View Askew film, however, and it was going to be made, so I decided to go for the ride and have been following its progress with the Train Wreck video blog. The behind the scenes footage has been hilarious of course, but it still didn’t confirm Dante and Randall talking about mundane pop culture and sexual innuendoes could sustain another hour and a half. Thankfully Clerks II pulled it off, making any Askewniverse fan wonder, “You know, maybe he’ll do a third in another 12 years.” I’ll be there opening night for sure.
It has been over a decade since the Quick Stop employees last graced the big screen with their vulgarity, immaturity, and down-right laugh-out-loud comedy. Everything that made the first film great remains intact from the dialogue-driven story, sparse sets, potty-humor, Star Wars debates, and customer abuse. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are Dante and Randall, two old-time buddies who have been close since high school. After working a decade at the convenience and video store respectfully, they move onto fast food fun at their neighborhood New Jersey Mooby’s. A life-altering change like this wasn’t premeditated—those two couldn’t make a game plan without the accidental coffeemaker fire that destroyed their former employment. Mooby’s provides another small customer base, a relaxed boss in Becky (played superbly by Rosario Dawson), and no real rules allowing them to basically do whatever they want. While still having the occasional bickering-filled, profanity-laced rant with each other, the new characters add a welcome dynamic that doesn’t let it get monotonous from watching the same two actors talk the whole time. Also, the utopia shattering event of Dante moving to Florida the next day to get married turns up the heat.
Dawson is great as the easy-going manager who is only there to help out her ill uncle, a two-week fill-in grown to two years and counting. She is totally having fun onscreen and has the fortitude to hold her own with a character as brazen as Randall. Fast with the quips and spot-on with facial reactions, she fits right into Smith’s world. Trevor Fehrman is also top-notch as sheltered Jesus-freak Elias. The direction he has taken the character is hilarious and he plays it well. With nerdy awkwardness, Fehrman is the perfect punching bag for Randall to wail on verbally. Elias loves the camaraderie and takes the punishment without a second thought, along with a healthy dose of naiveté. After watching the video-blog the past few months and seeing Jeff Anderson and Trevor joking around and playing pranks, I was totally caught-off guard with the entrance of the Elias character. I thought he would be one of them: cynical and elitist. Instead Smith treats us with yet another disparate component to add to the pot of asinine yet enthralling conversation that drives the film.
Unlike the failed sequel Superman Returns, Smith successfully peppers his script with callbacks to the original. Whether it be catchphrases—that work due to being character specific—or eccentricities like Dante’s seeming fetish of painting women’s toenails. It all works within the constraints of the plot and never seems tired. As an audience we are genuinely seeing these characters twelve years later as though they’ve been living during the layoff and we have just decided to check in on them again. They are still haunted by old high school classmates that have done something with their lives as well as a slew of quirky personas passing through. The only difference here being that they are now filled by star cameos rather than friends of the filmmaker. Through it all, though, the real heart and soul lies in the never stale rapport between our two main men.
A review of a Redbank tale of course couldn’t be complete without mention of our favorite stoners: Jay and Silent Bob. The miming from Smith is as good as ever, but the star of the duo is by far Jason Mewes. After missing out on Jersey Girl a couple years back, Mewes has exited rehab sober and better than ever. Rather than trying to have him pick up the nuances of being high, Smith brilliantly makes the character straight now too. We aren’t then treated with a shell of Mewes’ comedic inebriation,, but a reborn slacker gone through an evolution instead. He’s still comic gold and the best dancer around.
Any fan of the original Clerks needs to go out and see this film. It lives up to its predecessor like few do. Albeit definitely not for everyone—the prudish and sensitive should stay far away—it’s the Smith we love. Hopefully he’s back after the last two relatively subpar films (Jay and Bob and Jersey Girl). Clerks II is smart, crude, condescending comedy infused with heart and compassion as Smith has evolved himself as a writer. The ending also bookends the film perfectly by harkening back to the old days of one of grunge’s best: Soul Asylum.
 Jeff Anderson and Brian O’Halloran reprise their roles as Randal and Dante in Kevin Smith’s Clerk II. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company/Darren Michaels, 2006.
 Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith reprise their roles as Jay and Silent Bob in Kevin Smith’s Clerk II. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company/Darren Michaels, 2006.