Clerks II: 2006, dir. Kevin Smith. Seen at Galaxy Highland (press screening).
I’ve been waiting for years to see someone rework a Thirties screwball comedy film in contemporary terms. Friends and I have argued about whether it is even possible: whether the old-fashioned screwball comedy is dead and buried, a product of its time. So it was a complete surprise to encounter a movie with a plot lifted straight from His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby in the most unlikely place … Clerks II, Kevin Smith’s sequel to his 1994 first feature.
I never in my life thought I would be referring to one of Kevin Smith’s as reminiscent of Howard Hawks … although Hawks never included expressions like “cock-stain”. But then I never imagined myself sitting in a theater at the end of Clerks II thinking, “Oh, my God. He just remade The Front Page, but with fast food instead of journalism,” and subsequently picking up my jaw from the floor at the very idea.
I heard Smith speak about this film earlier in the year. He claimed that he wanted to make a movie that Clerks fans would enjoy, and to hell with everyone else. (I am sure Smith said something cruder than “to hell” but you get the idea. If my mom ever met him she would stuff three bars of soap in his mouth within five minutes.) I have no strong feelings about Clerks — I didn’t understand all the hype, and found some of it annoying (the film’s attitude towards females), although there were parts that I liked very much (the hockey game). I liked Chasing Amy and Dogma much better. Clerks II seems to be much closer in spirit and tone to Chasing Amy.
Clerks II has some predictable plot elements. However, although it may be obvious that Point A is ultimately going to lead to Point B, how we get there is often unpredictable and sometimes hilarious. Again, look at His Girl Friday: the minute Rosalind Russell tells Cary Grant that she’s quitting her reporter job to marry that wet noodle Ralph Bellamy and move to Albany, we all know things aren’t going to proceed according to plan. But we don’t know that the plot will involve a fugitive hiding in a desk, a woman leaping out a window, and Roz landing one helluva front-page story. That’s all handled with suspense and wit.
So it is with Clerks II. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are working at Mooby’s, a fast-food chain restaurant, since the Quick Stop burned down a year ago. Now Dante is a day away from moving to Florida with his hot blonde fiancee Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach). The minute Emma made a disparaging comment about New Jersey, I knew what would happen with that. You trash Jersey in a Kevin Smith movie, you’re gonna suffer. But I didn’t anticipate a long diatribe on racial epithets, a dance sequence that could have been lifted from a movie musical, potential interspecies erotica, and a silly homage/update to the bicycle scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
(It occurs to me that this movie is actually a lot like Cars, but with better-scripted subplotting and funnier rants. However, that’s a comparison for someone else to track — I’m still focused on the Thirties comedy parallels.)
Clerks II is packed with little sight gags — if you miss one, or don’t find one funny, another will catch your attention a minute later. I got a kick out of the beanie-baby-ish cows on the cash register … the tags that normally read “TY” had “FU” on them. Smith manages several sight gags based on Mooby’s slogan: “I’m eating it!” The above-mentioned musical sequence spends a lot of time focused on Rosario Dawson’s dancing, with the camera lingering maybe a little too long on her braless chest as she bounces around.
Some of the musical selections are a little too obvious: the credits sequence where the guys drive by a line of chain restaurants accompanied by the Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers” lacked originality. On the other hand, I loved the opening sequence in the film and its transition from black-and-white to color.
The acting is uneven at times — what worked for the ultra-cheap Clerks is difficult to deal with in its more expensive sequel. Brian O’Halloran’s delivery of lines is often stilted and makes Dante difficult to believe. (Also, he’s starting to look strangely like Stephen Root.) Rosario Dawson, playing the adorable Mooby’s manager Becky, is much better than most of the actors surrounding her, which throws the film slightly off-kilter. Jason Mewes is a better Jay than ever, but Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob seems to mug for the camera more than usual, as if he’s unable to speak instead of simply disinclined to do so.
However, the chemistry between the two leads more than made up for their acting shortfalls. I don’t mean Dante and either of the women, I mean Dante and Randal. I suppose the movie is more like The Front Page than His Girl Friday, because the relationship that the romantic comedy is centering on is the friendship between these two guys — although, as they tell us so many times during the film, they aren’t gay. (Everyone in this movie seems terribly fascinated by cock, but that’s a whole other essay.)
On a superficial level, Clerks II might be seen as a smutty film: conversations about ass-to-mouth activities and bestiality, an irreverent look at Christian abstinence techniques, Jay’s bizarre Silence of the Lambs tribute, and other R-rated content that I can’t mention without revealing too much plot. However, the dirtiest moments are the ones not shown onscreen, when we’re watching character reactions, which is probably what saved this movie from an NC-17 rating.
When you look past the dirty jokes and the goofy fan humor, Clerks II is a sweet film about innocent people looking for love and friendship, and trying to find their place in the universe. I’m normally wary of sequels, but I enjoyed it much more than I expected.