Clerks II (The Weinstein Company/MGM, R)

As it turns out, both the hope that the film might be a return to form and the worry that it will bastardize Smith’s arguably most beloved characters are valid, as the film somehow manages to do both.

 

After 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith stated publicly that he was retiring the Jay and Silent Bob characters. His next film was 2004’s disappointing (and yet at least a little underrated) Jersey Girl, and shortly thereafter, Smith reneged on his claim that he wouldn’t make any more Jay and Silent Bob movies, and announced Clerks II, which, at the time, he was calling The Passion of the Clerks (thank, um, Christ that he scrapped that title). This artistic flip flop to return to the characters that made him famous made a lot of his longtime fans both happy and nervous, as, while a new film filled with Dante (Brian O’ Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) yelling at customers would be welcome, Smith has been losing relevance with every film he’s released since 1997’s Chasing Amy, and none of us want to see our favorite characters besmirched by an ill-advised sequel. As it turns out, both the hope that the film might be a return to form and the worry that it will bastardize Smith’s arguably most beloved characters are valid, as the film somehow manages to do both.

Clerks II begins with the Quick Stop that has employed Dante and Randall since the first Clerks burning down, and then it jumps in time a year or two to when Dante and Randall have moved on to the local Mooby’s (the McDonald’s-like fast food joint first seen in Dogma), under the command of Becky (Rosario Dawson), their very likeable and attractive manager. Dante’s now engaged to a girl named Emma (played by Smith’s real-life wife, Jennifer Schwalbach) and plans to move to Florida with her in a few weeks. Randall, on the other hand, has no desire to do anything other than be a low-level clerk all his life, and seems upset with the fact that Dante is motivated to get out. On the periphery are Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), of course, as well as a newcomer named Elias (Trevor Fehrman) who works with them at Mooby’s, and the usual smattering of cameos from Smith’s cronies (Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, among others).

When Smith sticks to what he first made his name on—great, realistic dialogue on love, sex, and pop culture—the movie is everything you could want it to be (Mewes does a classic impression of The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill, for example, and there is also a great ongoing feud between Randall and Elias regarding whether the original Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings films are a better film trilogy). Also, Smith retains his knack for perfectly casting every single role, right down to the minor ones—Fehrman is a find as Elias, Dawson sells a borderline impossibly written role, etc. But still, a lot of the follies that have befallen Smith in his recent pictures are all too glaring: dated jokes (something called Freedom Toast would have been funny, what, five years ago? And let’s not bring up the film’s original title) and undisciplined sequences abound (a John Hughes–like dance number starts out humorously but wears out its welcome long before it is actually over), the last line of the film is embarrassing, Smith’s schtick as Silent Bob gets more over the top with every film, and his forgoing the human comedy for slapstick is a terrible trend that he needs desperately to kick.

Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the original Clerks but are afraid to see this one, go see it; you won’t regret it. Even so, Smith has some serious work to do if he ever hopes to re-attain the comedic gold and cultural importance of Clerks or Chasing Amy; it would be heartbreaking if films like Clerks II are the best he can muster for the rest of his career.

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