Clerks II

Cast:
Brian O’Halloran as Dante Hicks
Jeff Anderson as Randal Graves
Rosario Dawson as Becky
Trevor Fehrman as Elias
Jennifer Schwalbach as Emma
Jason Mewes as Jay
Kevin Smith as Silent Bob
Jake Richardson as Teen #1
Ethan Suplee as Teen #2
Jason Lee as Lance Dowds
Kevin Weisman as Hobbit Lover
Wanda Sykes as Wife
Earthquake as Husband
Ben Affleck as Gawking Guy
Zak Charles Knutson as Sexy Stud

Directed by Kevin Smith

Summary:
Kevin Smith comes full circle and finds closure for his 12-year-old Jersey story, rarely missing a beat and often showing a refreshing and uncharacteristic maturity.

Story:
Now in their thirties, Dante Hicks and Randal Graves (Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson), the title characters from Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” are working at Mooby’s, a local fast food joint, after the Quick Stop burnt down. Dante is now engaged and about to move down to Florida to marry his fiancĂ© Emma (Smith’s own real-life wife Jennifer Schwalbach), potentially ending his friendship with Randal forever.

Analysis:
There’s something about revisiting one’s past that has become a trend among indie filmmakers. Denys Arcand did it with “The Barbarian Invasions” and Richard Linklater did it with “Before Sunset,” and in both cases, they showed they had matured as filmmakers, just as their characters had grown.

Since making his debut “Clerks” twelve years ago, Kevin Smith has created a niche audience with his often juvenile frat boy humor, and like the unconverted, I can take it in small doses or leave it altogether. He softened up a bit with his 2004 attempt at a mainstream romantic girl, “Jersey Girl,” but in returning to his roots, Smith proves that he’s still the same guy that won audiences over twelve years ago. And yet, this time, he approaches his subjects with a more mature perspective to offer a clever alternative to the dumb comedies currently coming out of Hollywood.

“Clerks II” opens just like “Clerks 1″–in black and white–with Brian O’Halloran’s Dante arriving to open the Quick Stop. This time, when he lifts the gate, the place is on fire, in full color no less, letting us know we’re not in for a retread of the first movie. Months later, Dante and his partner-in-crime, Jeff Anderson’s Randal, are working at a fast food joint, still mocking and ignoring their customers to argue about movies or anything else on their mind. At least Dante has made an effort to grow up, now engaged to a beautiful woman, and the movie shows Dante’s last day in New Jersey before moving down to Florida to marry his fiancĂ©.

Like the original, the sequel is made up of vignettes or skits, but there’s more of a purpose to the story in showing how these guys deal with still having to work a dead-end job in their thirties and how their friendship may soon come to an end once Dante moves away. Despite the required sentimentality, things never gets as touchy-feely as Ed Burns’ recent “Groomsmen,” but their friendship often takes a backseat to Dante’s feelings for his boss Becky, played by Rosario Dawson. These relationships really are the best part of the movie, showing why Smith is such a solid writer. He uses everything he’s learned in the past 12 years as a filmmaker and as a person to show that he can make a far more cohesive film. That said, he rarely pulls his punches and he goes out of his way to up the gross-out ante with bizarre sex acts, almost as if he’s overcompensating for “Jersey Girl.” Still, it’s the intelligent look at relationships that keeps the movie from devolving into one long string of racist, sexist and homophobic jokes, though you’ll probably find yourself laughing despite yourself, knowing that they would normally offend or anger a sane person.

As before, Randal’s know-it-all schtick offers some of the best laughs, taking on a new sparring partner in his 19-year-old Mooby’s coworker, a clueless virgin geek played by newcomer Trevor Fehrman, who gives Dante a much-needed break from Randal’s endless prattling. The funniest moments allow Smith to mouth off about the Transformers, The Lord of the Rings and their respective fans. There are a few “what was he thinking?” moments like when Becky tries to teach Dante to dance for his wedding, turning into an all-out dance number to the tune of the Jacksons’ “A-B-C,” like something from a Steven Chow movie

Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson reprise their respective roles with suitable gusto, as if the last twelve years never happened, but it’s Rosario Dawson, looking lovelier than ever, who wins your heart, because she’s able to keep up with them by dishing out a bit of her own foul-mouthed humor.

Smith’s signature characters Jay and Silent Bob are also back, pretty much the same despite having gone through rehab to get off drugs. They show up at odd moments to supply a punch line or two, and they’re far more tolerable in small doses, because Smith insures that they never overshadow the movie’s real stars. Jason Mewes has noticeably toned Jay down a bit, but he still steals the movie with his impression of Jamie Gumb’s transvestite dance from “Silence of the Lambs.” Long-time Smith fans will also appreciate the requisite cameos by actors from previous films.

It all adds up to a great third act and a satisfying ending that resolves everything well, even closing the movie on a Soul Asylum song, just to show that Smith hasn’t gone too far away from his roots.

The Bottom Line:
You might have to already be a Kevin Smith fan to truly appreciate the sophomoric humor in his latest comedy, but it’s amusing to muse about his internet fanboys who’ll be pissing their pants laughing at certain scenes unaware that they’re just as much the targets of the mocking. Only time will tell whether this keeps Smith’s View Askewniverse alive, but it’s nice to see Smith’s creative juices flowing again by producing something that mixes the best of the old with a perspective that’s most assuredly new.

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