The Good: Character development, Acting, Humor, Dialogue
The Bad: Lack of real plot, Predictability
The Basics: While Dante prepares to move away, Randal finds himself conflicted while the pair works their last day at Mooby's.
It's a sad day when Kevin Smith can't get the clearance to call a movie "The Passion Of The Clerks" and is forced to resort to the mundane Clerks II title for his last opus involving his classic View Askew characters. Clerks II, to skip to the end, is likely to appreciated best by fans of Kevin Smith's work, especially those who like his eccentric and often obscene characters. But this is not a redux of Clerks, this is the obscenity-laden conversations of Clerks combined with the thoughtful emotionalism of Jersey Girl. And it works, wonderfully.
Following the destruction of the Quick Stop - and, apparently, RST Video - friends Dante and Randal find themselves working at Mooby's, the fictional fast-food empire established in Dogma. Dante and Randal are followed by the now-clean, but still-dealing Jay and Silent Bob. And on Dante's last day at Mooby's before moving off to Florida with his fiance, Dante and Randal harass their ultra-Christian coworker Elias, a The Lord Of The Rings fan and a number of customers. Amid the dialogue on pop culture, Dante takes breaks to spend time with his fiance, Emma, and his boss Becky.
While Randal prepares for Dante's exodus, Dante begins to wonder if he has reason to stay.
Clerks II is almost devoid of plot. Why? The main characters are slackers, so there is little they actually do. This was a crushing problem for me with Clerks, but here is makes more sense, because the characters ultimately do make the journey. So, while the film begins much like its predecessor, with the plot happening to the characters, it does ultimately make a reversal.
The reason Clerks II is work seeing is that it is a character piece. While it uses the crudest form of humor to convey its point, it does so with respect to the continuity of this reality. So, for example, after a scene where Randal, Dante and Becky list off every racial epitaph against black people, Randal decides the phrase that got him into trouble to begin with - "porch monkey" - should just refer to lazy people. Because he considers himself lazy - and he's spent 30+ years thinking the term meant "lazy," he decides to take back the phrase and spends the rest of the movie wearing "Porch monkey 4 life" written on his back. The point here is that while Kevin Smith writes humor that goes beyond mainstream good taste, he does it in a way that is consistent to the story he is telling and the characters he has created. So, in such a context, the donkey show that Randal buys for Dante as a going away present is not only understandable, but predictable. After all, in Clerks, he did go rent hermaphroditic porn to share with Dante.
So, what makes the movie work is what makes any movie work and that's character. And Clerks II has it. Dante finds his life in a state of change, with a woman who loves him and him about to move away with her. Randal finds his world - with the most meaningful relationship he's ever had - in a state of collapse. The changes that are coming are compelling the characters to finally emote. And, in Dante's case, because change is coming anyway to their lives, they begin to make the changes as opposed to letting the changes simply happen. That is character growth. And it works.
It's still a Kevin Smith movie, so there's the silliness of a big dance number, the borderline homophobia, and the dialog that would put a sailor to shame. It is a shock and a miracle that this movie did not get an NC-17 rating.
The characters are aptly played by the usual suspects in Kevin Smith's movies. Rosario Dawson, who plays Becky, is the newcomer to the mix and she is fabulous. She brings humor and gravity when necessary and she makes for a wonderful foil for Emma. Emma is played by Kevin Smith's wife Jennifer and she does a great job with her material. Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith do their usual fine work with the somewhat monolithic characters of Jay and Silent Bob.
It is, of course, Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson who are given the most work and the greatest burden to carry as Dante and Randal. Here, they live up to their potentials by emoting. They play characters with very real conflicts and emotions and they pull it off masterfully. O'Halloran is conflicted and it shows through his eyes and voice. Anderson is forced to play Randal as momentarily flippant, then shockingly expressive and Anderson sells us on how difficult it is for his character to do that. Perfectly.
In fact, the only unremarkable regular is in the form of Trevor Fehrman, who seems like a poor man's Sean William Scott, without the sense of improvisational timing. Fehrman plays Elias and one wonders why - in a movie packed with cameos by other Kevin Smith movies like Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Walt Flannigan, and Ethan Suplee - Smith did not use Jason Biggs or another alumnus from his prior films for the role.
There's a a lot to recommend this movie, like Randal's interpretation of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the conversation on racial slurs and the ultimate character development that occurs. There's a lot for mainstream america to shy away from here, too, like the donkey show, Kevin Smith's butt and the discussion of statutory rape. But if you have a sense of humor and want to see how far the envelope may be pushed while still maintaining a story with interesting and likable characters, Clerks II is worthwhile.
For the record, I was not much of a fan of Clerks, but this movie, I look forward to watching again and adding to my permanent collection.
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© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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