July 24, 2006

The Return of the Counter Culture

Clerks II

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 Stars

In the age of studio re-writes, script doctors, and production delays upon production delays, it’s refreshing to see a gifted filmmaker given free reign to put his vision on screen unmolested. That’s even true when the vision is an interspecies erotica performance in a fast food joint.

Clerks II picks up ten years after the seminal Clerks. We find that the Quick Stop has met an untimely death and best friends Dante Hicks (Jeff O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) have traded in the convenience store crowd for the fast food junkies at Mooby’s, a McDonalds/Disney conglomerate crossed with Elsie the Borden Milk cow. Also working at Mooby’s are geeky teenager Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and their easygoing boss Becky (Rosario Dawson). Rehabbed stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself) have also made the move across town. Today is Dante’s last day at Mooby’s as he and his new fiancé are picking up and moving to Florida. He has one last shift to put in and a few hours to tie up all his loose ends before he begins his new life. His friends have that same last shift to come to terms with the fact that Dante is really leaving.

Writer and Director Kevin Smith’s biggest talent has always been his dialogue. It’s what really sets him apart from the crowd. His characters use obscenity like an art form. They make George Carlin’s seven dirty words skit look like a nursery rhyme. However, the important thing here is not which words they’re using, but what they’re saying. In the midst of all the expletives Smith manages to comment on religion, marriage, racism, pop culture, and even love. The original Clerks brilliantly captured the apathy felt by the nineties slacker generation through the banter and conversations of Randal and Dante. Clerks II continues to be a mirror to a generation with that same device. It’s also hysterically funny.

Smith pulls out all the stops on Clerks II. Between Randal’s disturbing observations on promiscuous teenagers and Helen Keller vs. Anne Frank, Elias’s ruminations on Transformers and the perils of pre-marital sex, and Jay and Silent Bob killing time outside in all sorts of strange ways the film is absolutely a riot. The jokes fly fast and furious and Smith’s sense of humor really shines. His commentary on Lord of the Rings/Star Wars fan boys is also hilarious. His brand of humor may not be for everyone but if you like it you’re in for a treat.

In addition to his dialogue, Smith shows off his directing chops as well. The film uses a handheld camera for most of the scenes and it provides a definite style to the picture as well as a nod to the original. Smith pays homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with an update of the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” scene. There’s also a small dance number that brings to mind any number of musicals. In addition to the visual style, Smith works to get the best in his actors. Jeff Anderson is terrific in his reprise of Randal. Rosario Dawson is a great addition to the view askewniverse as is Trevor Fehrman. Brian O’Halloran is still occasionally painful to watch and Jennifer Schwalbach (Smith’s real life wife) has a few rough spots but Smith manages to keep those moments to a minimum.

Smith has said that his re-visiting of Clerks was a gift/promise to his hetero life-mate Jason Mewes if Mewes could get sober and stay off drugs. Even if that’s the impetuous behind the film it turns out Smith had a lot to say. Beneath all of the jokes, this movie has an awful lot of heart. It deals with love and friendship in a straightforward and open way that is only possible because of the humor. The original Clerks was funny and entertaining and absolutely brilliant. The sequel is too.

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