Combustible Celluloid Review - Clerks II (2006), Kevin Smith, Kevin Smith, Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Trevor Fehrman, Jennifer Schwalbach, Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, Wanda Sykes, Kevin Weisman
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With: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Trevor Fehrman, Jennifer Schwalbach, Jason Lee, Ben Affleck, Wanda Sykes, Kevin Weisman
Written by: Kevin Smith
Directed by: Kevin Smith
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive sexual and crude content including aberrant sexuality, strong language and some drug material
Running Time: 97
Date: 05/26/2006

Clerks II (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With his seventh feature film, filmmaker Kevin Smith returns to his first. This could be seen as an act of desperation, especially coming after his earnest, yet maudlin Jersey Girl (2004), but it could also be a case of recharging his batteries.

After viewing Clerks II, it's probably safe to bet on the latter.

The original Clerks (1994) is still a cult classic known to many, but let's recap. It was that year's indie smash, shot for something like $25,000 and grossing somewhere just over $3 million. It was a dialogue-heavy, black-and-white comedy about two low-ambition twenty-somethings, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson -- no relation to me), who worked at a New Jersey convenience store and an adjacent video store, respectively.

The sensitive one, Dante, continually second-guessed himself and his relationships with women. Randal was the more carefree soul, the impetus for all kinds of havoc and sick humor.

Lending support were the local burnouts, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). Jay babbled consistently about drugs, chicks and his own sexual prowess, while Silent Bob, true to his name, said nothing (a clever conceit for a first-time writer/director appearing on camera).

If not exactly forecasting a bright future for our heroes, the movie at least ended on a happy note.

But ten years later (twelve in real life, but who's counting?) Dante and Randal are now in their thirties and in color. (See my interview with the two stars.) Their jobs come to an end when the convenience/video stores burn down. Now they work at Mooby's, Smith's fictitious fast-food restaurant that appears in several of his films.

Randal is perfectly happy ridiculing the customers, and especially his younger co-worker Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a rabid Lord of the Rings and Transformers fan. But trouble comes to paradise as Dante is about to get married to Emma (played by Jennifer Schwalbach, the journalist whom Smith fell in love with during an interview and subsequently married).

Emma is beautiful and rich and her dad is going to give Dante a respectable job in Florida; that's all well and good, but Randal doesn't believe that Dante truly loves Emma. Randal happens to be right, because Dante is really in love with his Mooby's boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson).

That's enough drama for one movie, but as icing, Jay and Silent Bob return after a stint in rehab, having found religion (specifically Catholicism, Smith's own flock). Instead of hanging out in front of Mooby's selling drugs, they now hang out in front of Mooby's, sell drugs -- and try to convert their customers.

Of course, a bigger budget and time spent in Hollywood can now afford Smith some cameos, such as Smith vets Jason Lee and Ben Affleck, as well as comedienne Wanda Sykes and Kevin Weisman (TV's "Alias").

Smith manages to navigate these rather traditional plot threads with a kind of irreverent glee, splashing into them like a kid into a mud puddle. Yet he somehow avoids childish or bathroom humor; his rhythms and punchlines have a definite adult, professional ring.

His strength, of course, has always been his slap-happy dialogue, and his ingenuous personality, which comes through effortlessly and clearly in each film. He continues to work with friends and remains loyal even when the chips are down (i.e. Affleck), or when it's no longer politically correct (i.e. Harvey Weinstein).

Even young Fehrman came from within the circle; he was discovered by Jeff Anderson while working on his own directorial debut.

Smith has a strong internet presence, and is friendly to fans, but is not ruled by them.

He gamely admits his own drawbacks, which is a lack of cinematic sense; he is not and never will be an Ozu, Ophuls or Kubrick. But with help, such as Robert Yeoman's widescreen cinematography on Dogma or Vilmos Zsigmond's lush glow on Jersey Girl, he can deliver a professional product at least as good as half the other products in town.

He even apologizes for films that fail to connect with fans (Mallrats and Jersey Girl specifically). It is for these reasons that he inspires such passionate fans as well as passionate detractors.

Clerks II is as pure Smith as a film can get. It's not terribly ambitious, as Dogma or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back were, nor is it terribly precious like Chasing Amy or Jersey Girl. It doesn't particularly care if you haven't seen Clerks I, and if you haven't, you'll miss several jokes -- and maybe even the point.

The only other comedies of note in 2006 are Art School Confidential, Thank You for Smoking, The Oh in Ohio and the first 30 minutes of The Devil Wears Prada -- and each of those plays sharply with the intent to skewer and/or satirize. Clerks II is an old school comedy, wise and silly and fun. You leave relaxed rather than taxed or insulted.

It's about funny people saying and doing funny things, like Preston Sturges used to make them. (Incidentally, Sturges was another guy without any particular grasp of cinematic language.)

Plus, how can you not love a film with a musical number set to the Jackson Five's "ABC"?

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