Review: Clerks II (2006)

In 1994, then (nearly) brand new director Kevin Smith gave us the world behind the cash register with his arguably brilliant albeit ultra low budget movie Clerks. Filmed at night in the very convenience store where he spent years engaged in retail drudgery, Smith gave us a bawdy and far more entertaining version of retail life than exists out there, although web sites like Not Always Right do liven up the retail world for those who inhabit or have inhabited it.

With the surprise success of Clerks, Smith cemented mainstream movie success with movies like Chasing Amy and Dogma. It was no surprise then that Smith eventually decided to make a sequel to the popular Clerks. Of course, to succeed it required most of the characters from the original movie. However, most sequels are shadows of the original movie, and thus should be avoided. I could not resist the lure of Clerks II, given how much I enjoyed the first movie. I was prepared to be disappointed.

Not so. Clerks II is not quite as good as the first movie, but nearly as good. Thus, it inhabits the narrow realm of sequels that are nearly as good as the original movie. The venue this time is not a QuikStop convenience store but a Mooby’s fast food restaurant. Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) would probably have stayed at the QuikStop indefinitely had it not inconveniently burned down a year earlier. The venue may have changed but the customers and faces have not. Instead of juggling coffee pots and sorting magazine racks, Dante now scrambles behind the counter at Mooby’s where you can enjoy drinks like a Bovine Size It. Unlike QuikStop, which is a real franchise, the cow-oriented Mooby’s chain is fictional, reflecting Smith’s deeper pockets since his impoverished 1994 directorial debut. It might as well be a QuikStop, because the coffee pot is still there and steam is always rising behind the counter somewhere.

Twelve years may have elapsed but the characters seem stuck in time and are now inconveniently in their thirties. Instead of peddling videos next door to the QuikStop, Randal (Jeff Anderson) is now haphazardly grilling burgers and working the French fry vat at Mooby’s next to Dante. Like Carmen and Winslow in the comic strip Prickly City, Dante and Randal seem doomed to inhabit their adult years together in a generally unhealthy and crass relationship. Perhaps Randal’s unhealthy presence is why Dante’s girlfriends from his convenience store days are no longer items. However, now that Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (played by director Kevin Smith) are out of prison, they have of course chosen to hang out in front of Dante’s Mooby’s as a choice place to sell drugs.

Dante cannot be without love interests, of course, or there would be no movie. In Clerks II, Dante is oddly engaged to the skinny, attractive, blond, leggy and controlling Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith). She plans to move him to Florida where her wealthy family is preparing to give the new couple a house. In fact, it’s Dante’s last day at the Mooby’s, which is unearthing a lot of subterranean feelings from the whole cast of characters. Dante is about to become respectable and move out of detested New Jersey to Florida, and through Emma’s conniving, far, far away from his loser friend Randal. Yet he does not seem terribly happy at the prospect of his new and richer life, even when Emma shows up at his workplace to slide her tongue down his throat.

And what about Becky (Rosario Dawson), the acerbic manager of the Mooby’s? She is supposed to be Dante’s boss but it is clear both have the hots for each other, to the extent that one of Dante’s unofficial jobs is to paint her toenails in the privacy of her office when the morning traffic lightens. Somehow, in the course of the day, you know all these tensions will somehow resolve themselves. Since it’s a Kevin Smith movie, you know it will all happen in weird, quirky and generally obscene ways. So expect the usual variety of very odd scenes that include a donkey sex exhibition that Randal puts together as a sort of bachelor party. Also, expect strange dialogs with customers, including a Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings discussion in front of the cash register.

As long as you can appreciate Smith’s crass humor and the endless four letter words coming out of all the characters mouths, the movie manages to hit pretty much all the right notes. We get a lot more of Jay and Silent Bob, which is good, and some terrifically funny and weird scenes, including a dance scene between Becky and Dante on the roof of the Mooby’s. So now, I need to add Clerks and Clerks II to my DVD collection. Both movies are good enough to share, at least with my select group of friends and families who can also appreciate this level of irreverence and trash humor.

It seems unlikely that there will be a Clerks III, or if such a movie were made that it can be as funny as Clerks II, but I am hoping once a decade or so Smith takes us back into the bizarrely funny world of Dante, Randal, Jay and Silent Bob.

3.2 on my four point scale. If I were to measure it on my funny bone meter, it would be even higher.

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