I am, unabashedly, a trilogy geek. But unlike those who often choose between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, my trilogy of obsession has always been the View Askew Jersey trilogy – Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy. My great love for those Kevin Smith films and his words has already been documented on PopGurls, and thus it should come as no surprise that I went into the screening of Clerks II with great expectations. Those expectations were heightened a bit by a friend’s declaration of the movie being genius – a declaration that I wholeheartedly disagree with.
This is what received an eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes? Really? Was Jay and Silent Bob handing out free samples of their stash before the screening?
Now, I was certainly entertained by the film. Sure, there’s Smith-trademark crudeness for the sake of crudeness in here, but there’s even more of his sheer insane creativity that will stick with you long after you leave. When it was funny, it was hysterically, nearly fall-off-your-chair funny. But when it failed, ouch did it hurt.
Dante and Randal have been working at the Quick Stop and RST Video, respectively, for the past 10 years. When the building burns down, they get jobs at the local Mooby’s (see Dogma) fast food restaurant. Dante has gotten himself engaged to a hot chick, Emma, and they’re off to Florida where her family plans to pay for the wedding, get them a house and prop Dante up with a job. But first he’s got his final clock-in at Mooby’s and a reluctant goodbye to say to his boss, Becky. And Randal ain’t looking forward to that goodbye either.
- Jeff Anderson as Randal Graves – In Clerks, Randal is little more than an obnoxious jerk. But in Clerks II, Anderson brings a sense of gravitas and humility that is necessary to the character. His acting has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decade, and did wonders with some low points in the dialogue that would have screeched with an actor who didn’t understand where Randal is now, and what he’s facing. I was pleasantly surprised; he was such a joy to watch. I hope he continues to pursue more roles and that this turn opens up far more doors than his debut did.
- Elias – A brilliant addition by Smith, and Trevor Fehrman never made one misstep in his performance. Elias is a sweet, well-meaning fanboy who has found his obsessions in Transformers and Lord of the Rings. As the low man on the Mooby’s totem pole, he’s the antithesis of pretty much all things Askew and a common target of Randal, due to his innocence. There are so many things I could say here, and I don’t want to spoil anything for those who’ve yet to see the film, but just… “Pillow Pants.” Trust me, you’ll know when you see it.
- Rosario Dawson – My god, is she beautiful. I mean, I knew that, but for some reason, I was so taken with her here. She should wear those glasses all the time. And she’s truly wonderful in her role as Becky, the manager – she made the Becky/Dante scenes almost tolerable.
- Fanboys – LoTR fans and a Star Wars fan battle it out and you’ll find yourself either laughing at both sides or arguing for one of them. But either way, it’s one of those fall-off-your-seat funny scenes.
- The Dance Scene – There was a time when just about every Freddie Prinze Jr. movie had a dance scene in it, and, for better or worse, those scenes have seemed to fall by the wayside. Thank you for bringing the Dance Scene back, Smith. I’ll keep you on the shortlist for Grease 3.And, of course:
- Jay and Silent Bob – Perfect. Just utterly perfect. The commercials have made them seem funny (especially the Silence of the Lambs reference), but it’s so much better than you could expect. Thank you, Mewes, for finally cleaning up your act. This was brilliant.
- Dante and Randal – What Smith has always done well is friendship – Dante and Randal, Banky and Holden, T.S. and Brodie – and while, yes, little has changed in the Dante and Randal relationship, it’s been told, not shown here. The last third of Clerks II is the most solidly written, but the climax seems a little forced due to the previous two-thirds. Perhaps it would have been saved by better acting from O’Halloran, as the transgression in the friendship was hinted to by Anderson’s performance, but I think some re-writing should have been in order.
- The Plot – Oh, with the predictability. Okay, I didn’t see the near-penultimate scene coming, but from the first scene with Dante and Randal, I knew how it was going to end. And while I liked the parallel between Clerks and Clerks II with Dante choosing between two women, I was bored with the actual manifestation in this case. Emma was so irritating you had no reason to root for her and Becky was the Veronica. We all know who he should be with. If it were Dante choosing between Becky and Randal, it would have been far more interesting.
- Emma – The Caitlin this time around, Emma is Dante’s fiancé with whom he is about to run off to Florida. Only, while Caitlin was hot and Dante’s dream-girl, I’ve yet to find anyone who finds anything remotely appealing about Emma. She’s irritating to the hilt, and there’s no reason to care about her at all – especially compared to Becky (and, you know, the hotness of Rosario Dawson). The only thing that keeps her from falling into The Ugly – as her portrayer has been relinquished to – is the fact that she’s wearing a “Mrs. Hicks” T-shirt, a la a certain former “Mrs. Lachey.” That made me laugh.
- Brian O’Halloran as Dante Hicks – I hate to say this, but, man, Brian O’Halloran is a bad actor. He played everything with this weird awe, which worked in Clerks because it made sense that he was exasperated by all the insanity that went on on a day he wasn’t even supposed to be there! His scenes with Rosario were creepy as he kept staring at her with a dreamy, serial-killer friendly smile. And they had NO chemistry whatsoever! The only time I found him remotely palatable was when he was furious, which saved his performance for me. Where I hope Anderson has a longer future in acting, I really hope O’Halloran has something to fall back on.
- Jennifer Schwalbach — Kevin, PLEASE STOP CASTING YOUR FUCKING WIFE! Really, she’s already screwing you, you don’t need to put her in your movies. I’ll be nice and not mention, too much, how she looks as if she’s been botoxed to within an inch of her life and just talk about her acting skills. She wasn’t good in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and she’s so utterly horrific here that it made me hate the beginning of the film because there was too much of her. Have you noticed that no one else is casting her? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.
Like my issues with Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Once More with Feeling,” I wish that there was a lot less back-patting on Smith’s behalf and a bit more thought put into the script. Because unlike the fanboys and girls that can’t see past the obvious flaws in Lucas’ work, I take each installment in fandoms I love very critically. If I weren’t aware of how brilliant and emotionally stirring Smith’s work can be, I could see past the flaws and find Clerks II a fine film and move on. And it is fine, better than fine, but it could be more. While Reality Bites was touted as the film for Generation X, I believe Clerks is a much better gauge of where we were in 1994. And I think that there is a lot in Clerks II that reflects where some of us are 12 years later. Where Chasing Amy leaves you pondering your relationships and Dogma makes you revisit your views on God and religion, Clerks II asks what is it that you really want to do with your life, what makes you trulyhappy. And it’ll make you laugh your ass off before it forces you to think. But will it stay with you 12 years later, the thought of the film immediately creating a sense of who you were and where you were when you saw it? (College sophomore, with my boyfriend and his best friend in a crammed art-movie house.) Will it have an effect on a generation that lasts for years, spawning slackers into action (and permanently infecting their language)? I don’t think so. And, just maybe, that is where genius lies.