Movie review by Greg Carlson
Even for many Kevin Smith fans, “Clerks II” will taste like canned goods as caviar. As uneven and frustrating as the career of its talented creator, “Clerks II” struggles to keep up with the legacy of its predecessor (not to mention the multiple interlocked incarnations of its primary characters). While the original 1994 outing earned plenty of audience goodwill for its D.I.Y. aesthetic and homemade grittiness, the update comes with baggage and much higher expectations. Unfortunately, “Clerks II” is far less ambitious than the original. Like many of Smith’s films, the technical direction is suspect, the acting substandard, and the writing scattershot. For many, this translates into a slog, while for self-described citizens of the View Askewniverse, it will be just what the doctor ordered.
More than ten years down the road, little has changed for perpetual slacker pals Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson). A mildly amusing prologue sets up the circumstances that force the boys to leave the Quick Stop for low paying gigs at fast food joint Mooby’s, home of the Cow Tipper. From there, the movie takes its sweet time to deliver more of the same: Dante is still caught between two women (his controlling fiancée Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) and his scrappy boss Becky (Rosario Dawson). Randal still holds court on a variety of vulgar topics. Jay and Silent Bob still peddle nickel and dime bags in the parking lot.
Throughout the labored proceedings, one gets the feeling that on certain levels, Smith is a prisoner of the dickheads and dolts he expertly depicts. Pop culture academics will surely be able to squeeze a conference presentation or two out of Smith’s real life parallel to Dante’s predicament. Just as Emma wants Dante to accept a comfortable – dare we say mature – change of both lifestyle (by tying the knot) and scenery (by moving from Jersey to Florida), the siren song of fantasy girl Becky spins Dante in a different direction. You don’t need to wait until the last reel to realize this is no contest, for Dante or Smith.
Somewhat surprisingly, “Clerks II” is missing the parade of interesting customers that populated the first movie. Mooby’s is almost always empty, and the few patrons who do wander through the door manage to provide Randal an opportunity to unleash his thoroughly corrupt thought process (from rants about “Star Wars” versus “The Lord of the Rings” to a revelation of epic racial naivete). Smith has never been one to shy from even the most scatological topics, and makes sure to include a full-blown donkey show, a discussion of the merits of anal to oral contact, and a tribute to Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb’s penis-tucking trick from “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Even with these, and other coarse offerings, Smith works hard to wedge in some heartfelt sweetness and nostalgic whimsy. Trevor Fehrman, as counter jockey and nerdy virgin Elias, elicits sympathy much in the way that Todd Louiso did in “High Fidelity.” Becky and Dante also engage in a rooftop dance lesson (set to the Jackson 5) that turns into a colorful John Hughes tribute. A handful of other tracks, including well-chosen numbers by Talking Heads and Soul Asylum, complement the visuals. Like “Clerks,” the sequel will find new life once it disappears from cinemas for the friendlier terrain of home video.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/24/06.