View Full Version : Kevin Smith: Clerks II (2006)

Chris Knipp
08-07-2006, 05:56 PM

Talking dirty, talking true

Well, twelve years later, Jay and Silent Bob look almost exactly the same. Jason Mewes, despite all his drug problems and rehab (written into the story, with Bob -- Kevin Smith himself -- included), still has the teasing sneer, and Kevin Smith still has the wide-eyed blankness -- and the same shoulder pads, as Bob. Randal (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O'Halloran), the low-level work partners, have thickened. Rosario Dawson (Alexander, Sin City, Rent) adds a spark of warmth the original lacked. Clerks II quietly rocks and is a real sequel (more about that in a moment), but Smith will never again achieve the raw edge and sputtering energy of his cheap first effort, whose black and white film conveyed a documentary touch and emphasized the essential element, the non-stop dialogue. More money and so-so color don't help this kind of filmmaking, and the bursts of sincerity may sicken as many viewers as they touch. But this does work, the wit is still there, and the characters are explored more deeply, and prove worth thinking about. Why don't people change? Kevin Smith has an answer, and it's more about authenticity than weakness.

This is a sequel like Linklater's Before Sunset: i.e., it's set exactly as much later as the real-time interval between the making of Clerks and Clerks II and the same actors return, that much aged. The characters haven't done anything. The Quick Stop has been burned out and Randal and Dante have shifted over to working nearby in a fast-food joint called Mooby's and Jay and Silent Bob, post-arrest, 12-stepped and Bible-equipped, are still standing outside selling drugs. Jesus saves them from the temptation to sample their wares. Or so they say.

Dante has a woman who wants to marry him and move to Florida where her parents are going to buy them a house. But there's also Becky (Rosario) in his life, Mooby's manager, with whom Dante has a thing going.

What's wrong with the description so far is that the talk's as dirty and outrageous as before, maybe more so, and this time there are some visuals that are downright gross. It's impossible to convey the raw texture and crazy humor without quoting the obscene and anti-PC dialogue, which in a politely written review, we can't do, You can't appreciate this movie or its predecessor unless you savor its language and find it entertaining and liberating. I do. And I think that although language has gotten rawer in our world, a movie that talks like this and yet has a good heart and something to say is still a path-breaker.

Kevin Smith doesn't try hard to be clever, though sometimes he is; but the arguments, though hinging on unmentionable sex acts or outrageous defiance of racial politeness, are actually intelligent, and pursued to conclusions. This is the role of Randal's confident patter. In the assertive rhythms of his speech, he's presenting arguments. The conversation is more logical, more in the nature of an ongoing debate, than you usually get outside of the films of Eric Rohmer. I guess that's why I like Kevin Smith's Clerks duo: preposterous as it seems, they're like Eric Rohmer. Of course they're sophomoric. I saw this movie with a 15-year-old, who loved it (and said afterward there's no way he wouldn't have); and it occurred to me 15-year-old boys may be one kind of ideal audience (now anyway, 12 years since the original) for pure Kevin Smith. So, sophomoric they are. But Eric Rohmer's films are essentially adolescent. They're about men and women who're still boys and girls, spoiled, self-absorbed, eager to fall in love and unsure of who they are.

In place of the long stream of random odd customers in the first movie (whom we miss) this time there are just a few new characters who're treated in more depth. Besides Becky, a young woman who can trade blistering raw talk with the boys but is stable and sweet, there's a Mooby slave named Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a stuttering younger man with a rubbery face that runs through 30 expressions a minute. He's a virgin and seems like a Morman or Christian fundamentalist child, but he's really just a standard young innocent, eager, inhibited, and without sophistication, a quality slyly symbolized by his Lord of the Rings fandom. He's ridiculed in that as in his sexual naiveté by Randal, who's more a Star Wars adherent but also mocks the acting of the Anakin Skywalker boy. Randal is the voice of Smith's cynical honesty, but his heart is opened up to us later on.

After the dirty talk fades away and the guys are arrested for a gross show ostensibly put on to celebrate Dante's departure, what's left in a jailhouse scene is Randal, declaring eternal friendship to Dante and admitting that "in a totally heterosexual way" (a claim challenged by the sexually self-conscious Jay) he loves him. He also admits he misses an earlier time when things were simpler (not that they're so complicated for him now).

Clerks II is ostensibly about nowhere losers, but it's really about accepting oneself. We're all losers. In the vast scheme of things, we're all going nowhere. And Smith's credo is all about being true to your school, sticking by the hood, the famiglia, your posse, your mates. Smith and his family of mascot-heroes don't "develop" because they're authentic. How good Clerks II is shows Smith's master of his style. It still works. It not only entertains; it rings true. It's not a formula or a schtick: it's who he is. The Eric Rohmer analogy -- which admittedly appeals to me because it's so well calculated to offend film snobs -- also still holds. Rohmer too doesn't really change and is master of his style of limited plots where characters in endless talk wrestle with relationships and change. Alright: they're different styles. But in my world, there's room for both.

08-08-2006, 09:14 PM
I agree with many of your points, and I additionally think that Kevin Smith is applying the same convictions that Dante and Randall ultimately have to the films that he makes. It's obvious that Smith does not make films to appeal to vast masses; he does what he does because he loves to do it, and while that may seem simplistic, I think the way that he says it in the film is amusing and very fulfilling.

oscar jubis
08-08-2006, 10:16 PM
Wish it was a sequel to Chasing Amy, the one Kevin Smith movie I really like. I enjoyed the debut though, a product of Smith's indie DIY ethos (financed by multiple credit cards). What worries me about the sequel is that the characters are in their mid-30s now. Don't they look pathetic and ridiculous acting like 19 year olds?

08-09-2006, 08:48 PM
Originally posted by oscar jubis
What worries me about the sequel is that the characters are in their mid-30s now. Don't they look pathetic and ridiculous acting like 19 year olds?

Actually, in the movie they're in their 30s as well. So it works out.

I'm a fan of Chasing Amy as well; Smith did a really good job of keeping the comedy sophisticated yet low-brow enough.

Chris Knipp
08-10-2006, 12:50 AM
The answer is, no, they don't look pathetic. The trip from 20-something to 30-something isn't a very long one nowadays. Now if they are working at a crap job at 40-something, they may look pathetic. Or maybe they'll just look working class. Partly Smith's movie is about not having all the advantages and opportunities falling into your lap.
Smith did a really good job of keeping the comedy sophisticated yet low-brow enough.That's well-put.

12-10-2006, 02:42 PM
Kevin Smith is a hoot. Anything he puts his hand to is worth a watch in my book.