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Clerks II: Acoustic Boogaloo

July 22, 2006

I remember well seeing the original Clerks, sitting with maybe three other people at the Friday matinee (back when I was able to dive out of the office early) in the left hand side theater in the Belcourt, listening to those wonderfully scratchy speakers. I must have laughed at the “36 dicks” so hard that popcorn came out of my nose. The charm of the old Belcourt and the charm of Kevin Smith’s grunge cinematography, sophomoric humor and Star Wars references wooed the younger version of me. I stuck with Smith through Mallrats (underrated) and Chasing Amy (though marred by some horrid histrionics from the female lead). Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was Smith in full on fanboy mode, dishing out fan service left and right, settling scores with his critics and busting a move with Morris Day (pretty good life that Smith guy has, eh?). I could see how I’d have been more pleased with Jay and Silent Bob if I were several years younger. Was I outgrowing Smith? Was Smith outgrowing Smith?

In Clerks II, Smith seems to be asking himself that question. We find Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) still in the same rut all these years later, working at the same stores that only a fire could chase them away from. After the stores burn down, we fast forward to the duo slinging burgers at Mooby’s, the fictional burger conglomerate brought down by the wrath of angels in Dogma. Dante is as we left him, looking to settle down and dreaming of a life away from the service industry. Randall is as we left him . . . almost.

Clerks II is just this side of a remake, nearly identical situations slightly tweaked to reflect the passage of time, to reflect the changes in the auteur. There are obvious similarities and expected ones (juvenile humor, Star Wars geek talk), however, it’s mostly charmless. Jay’s been defanged and rendered a prop while Randall’s jocular scatological obsessions have become mean spirited. Were Smith a better writer I’d think it intentional; years of the same old same old have rendered Randall bitter. Yet it’s the role forced on the Randall character that makes what was once a goofy porn hound into a bullying bore. Randall has to represent Smith’s dark side, take pot shots at Lord of the Rings fans and religious fundamentalists and Internet message board geeks all the while trying to appear a loveable lunk. Though Anderson’s acting skills have improved to the point where he has comic timing and can emote, the burden is too much for the character to bear. We know Randall was always intended to be the asshole and Dante the rational one, however we always knew the easy going kid had a soft side, which was evinced in the dialogue. This time, most everything that comes out of his mouth is boorish, and the greater sin, not all that funny. Never got to care too much about him until the climax, which felt forced on us.

Still, Anderson is the best thing in the film. O’Halloran was the good straight man in the original, comic in his exasperations at Randall’s antics. In traditional comic buddy movies, the straight man is the lover man, and by now Dante’s well past his due date, his amours tell us he’s unconventionally handsome, and I suppose that’s Smith’s way of acknowledging what he has to work with (and perhaps letting us in on his own insecurities?). O’Halloran can still work up a sweat when Randall, insisting that he’s oblivious to the fact that porch monkey is a racial slur, spews a litany of racist language in front of Wanda Sykes and Earthquake (the only scene stealers in the film which is pretty sad for a Smith venture). That’s unfortunately all he’s good for.

Well, he’s gotten older, as have we all. Smith appeared to be trying to grow into mainstream Hollywood shoes doing staid RomComs and working with A-list stars. I’ve half a mind that this film was about him struggling with that, with his place in the industry after building this mini-empire on the backs of rabid fans and comic book otaku. I’ve another half that wonders if this wasn’t just payback to Anderson and O’Halloran for helping to get him in that position in the first place. The conclusion doesn’t offer much of a clue as to which one, though it suggests both closure for the characters and that Smith might find his way by sticking with the horse he rode in on. Perhaps the best clue is at the very end, post-credits. Anyone who is a member of one of Smith’s My Space boards should run to the front of the theater. It’s a fan service moment for the record books.

P.S. Don’t let the rabid Smith fans ruin what is occasionally a funny film. Be prepared for the Overlaugher, the guy who laughs LOUD at ANYTHING that happens on screen, especially something that references prior Smith films, who MUST LET YOU KNOW he is the ultimate fan. This Overlaugher can also be heard in Star Trek movies.  

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2006 2:47 pm

    Funny how almost every review of “Clerks II” starts with “I remember seeing the original Clerks at the [insert local art house] back in the day…”

    It must be a way to establish ones indie-film hipster bona fides over those Dante-come-latelys who discovered it on cable or home video.

    I myself saw Clerks at the Lefont Garden Hills Cinema in Buckhead back in…

  2. July 24, 2006 7:36 pm

    It’s more likely the art houses were the only place that you would have found a Miramax and/or fresh outta Sundance film in mid-sized to smaller cities in those days.

  3. July 25, 2006 12:37 pm

    Correct, but not what I was gettin’ at.

    Read five or six blog reviews of the movie. They all follow the same pattern. “I saw Clerks in Brand X movie theater back in the day…”

    For better or worse, it is one of the cultural touchstones for a generation.

  4. July 25, 2006 1:49 pm

    For better or worse, it is one of the cultural touchstones for a generation.

    My point exactly. Most critics published in dailies or semi-majors have already established their cred. We’re all saying indirectly that the film is a fond memory and recalls days when most of us were excited about movies.

  5. July 25, 2006 4:22 pm

    So we are agreeing?

  6. July 25, 2006 4:37 pm

    sorta

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