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Clerks II

I saw Clerks when I was nineteen and working a meaningless job in a cinema. At the time, it was the kind of film I could connect with.

Clerks, the first film by Kevin Smith, is about a day in the life of Dante Hicks and Randall Graves, the first who works in the Quixstop, and the second who works in the video store next door. It's meaningless, mind numbing work and, since I was working a similar job, I could connect with that. Especially the parts where people came in and asked stupid questions about films. In truth, I was more Randall, simply not taking the job seriously, and not really caring about customers. It was mindless work. Sweep this. Make that. Tear this. Yawn. Try not to laugh when they say that they are moved by Tom Cruise. But I worked alongside a lot of Dante's, who seemed to think the world would crumble if they didn't show up to the job, and who seemed to think that their position there meant some kind of thing.

Anyhow, I liked Clerks. It was funny--one of those films that hit at the right age. Now, ten years later, Smith, after a series off less than inspiring films, returns with Clerks II.

Dante and Randall, now in their early thirties, are working in the Smith World McDonalds Rip Off, Moobys. It is Dante's last day at the job, since he plans to go off to Florida with his soon to be wife the next day, where her parents will give him a house and a job. Randall, still caught in a world of not taking everything seriously, will be left behind. The realisation that life might have passed him by (or is, in fact, passing him by) is just occurring to him, and before the film is out, he will have hired a donkey sex show, tormented a Lord of the Rings fan, and realised what is important to him.

Which is kind of the problem with the film, right there. Clerks II is quite funny in places: the donkey sex show, for example, is simply hilarious, as is the Lord of the Rings conversation, and the part about trolls. But the humour is not the point of the film, sadly. Whereas Clerks hinted at its sentimentality, but maintained its comic line, Smith has, with its sequel, allowed the sentiment to run all over it. For every joke, there's a moment when the characters have a heart to heart, or when someone tells someone that they love the other.

There's a lot of love in this film.

It is as if Smith is unable to stop himself with his sentimentality. He has cast his wife in the roll of Dante's girlfriend, and while she's serviceable in the roll, one can't help but wonder what it would have been like in the hands of a actor, rather than a journalist who married a director. In addition, the continual usage of Jay and Silent Bob, while in previous films, just feels unnecessary in this. In fact, one could argue that the subtitle of the film should be A New Jay and Silent Bob, since a little chapter heading saying something similar to that appears five minutes into the film, and none follow it. But mostly, the two drug dealers, now straight and reformed on Jay's part, seem entirely unnecessary to the film, and I think I would have been happy if Smith had just finished using them after Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which was a truly funny film and, though laden with geek references, was not swimming in its sentimentality.

Smith's problem as a film maker in his thirties appears to be that he can not cut out his sentimentality. He can't kill his darlings, if you've heard the phrase. He's too in love with the family aspect of his films, and they are getting in the way of him making good films. The casting of his wife, the continual bit parts of actors such as Ben Affleck, the return to old characters, and his fascination with Jersey... all these demonstrate firstly, that Smith cannot kill his darlings, and secondly, that he has taken them as far as he can, and he cannot milk anything new out of them. There is nothing new here, and Smith needs to step outside it, as he has demonstrated with his work in comics and with Dogma (though he did not need Jay and Silent Bob for that, either).

Still, that said, there are things to like about Clerks II. That donkey scene, for example. Jeff Anderson, in his role of Randall, retains his comic timing of the first film, and Rosario Dawson is, as always, a pleasure to watch on the screen. But in the end, like most sequels, I think you have to end by saying that this was one film that did not need to be made.

Comments

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ataxi
Sep. 6th, 2006 04:33 am (UTC)
Kevin Smith's career has been in a hole of mediocrity since Clerks anyway. He hasn't made a movie worth rewatching since - most of them haven't even been worth it the first time.

It's a pity he never got to make the Preacher movie with Affleck as Jesse Custer. Garth Ennis has a far better line in juvenile wit than Smith himself, so I think the screenplay for that, and the end result, would easily have lifted the bar over any of Smith's actual work.
benpeek
Sep. 6th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)
i thought CHASING AMY was a pretty decent flick. his best, and perhaps better than CLERKS, though i don't like it as much. though i can't imagine he can keep making films like this, however.

i'm happy with no PREACHER movie, myself.
ataxi
Sep. 6th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
Chasing Amy had pretensions to credibility, but I found it offensively bad for some reason. Might have been the whole "guy tries to get lesbian to fuck him for entire movie, and we're supposed to find this believable, funny and somewhat touching" aspect of it.

A Preacher movie could've gone either way really, but would at least have been quite interesting to watch. Definitely a chance of it being Hollywoodized into something resembling The Last Boy Scout or Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man though. Mileage varies.
benpeek
Sep. 6th, 2006 05:14 am (UTC)
yeah, i see your point. i guess i found CHASING AMY to be more about bisexuality than how you described it. but then, you know, i don't think you're wrong. i've recently been thinking how you could make a case of smith's films being anti-homosexual. it was all the jesus shit coming into the last one.
ataxi
Sep. 6th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)
Smith seemed to want it all in Chasing Amy - to be able to crack jokes about queerness that would appeal to teenage boys and to make a serious film about sexuality. Didn't really work for me.

There's a certain point where saying something is "gay"(to mean bad), or being totally hung up about gayness, or making totally retarded jokes about guys liking lesbians, etc. can be ironic or somehow acceptable, but I think it really depends on what the audience expects of the writer's expectations about the audience, if you dig me. If the male audience is expected to collude/identify with the bigoted male protagonist, as they mostly are in Smith's films, it's a problem.

I haven't seen Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, I pretty much gave up on Smith after Dogma, which I thought was incoherent, self-indulgent rubbish with a ridiculous number of bad actors in it.
benpeek
Sep. 6th, 2006 05:27 am (UTC)
i liked JAy AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK. i think it was his last solid film, and funny. but then i didn't mind DOGMA. i didn't think hugely of it, but i didn't mind it. so maybe i've just got more tolerance for smith than you do...
ataxi
Sep. 6th, 2006 06:27 am (UTC)
I expect it's as much a case of "more tolerance for Smith than you do". I don't really do toleration by halves ;-)
mariness
Sep. 6th, 2006 01:01 pm (UTC)
I liked Chasing Amy since I thought it did a good job of exploring just how tangled and complex sexuality issues can get -- keep in mind that the lesbian/bi character is doing her own flirtation/seduction/manipulation too. It's not just a guy goes for lesbian sort of thing.
ataxi
Sep. 6th, 2006 01:19 pm (UTC)
Maybe a case could be made either way. I didn't like it - I'm fairly sure that was mainly for the reason I cited - but then it's been a while since I saw it.
angriest
Sep. 6th, 2006 06:41 am (UTC)
I find Kevin Smith to be one of the most bizarrely overrated writer/directors in the American film industry.

I liked Dogma, despite serious flaws. I laughed quite a bit at Jay & Silent Bob, again despite serious flaws.

Couldn't finish Clerks. Mallrats was just a bad movie, as was Jersey Girl. CHasing Amy I found oddly offensive.
benpeek
Sep. 6th, 2006 11:57 am (UTC)
it seems you are not alone in your finding chasing amy offensive.

i never saw jersey girl. the sentimentality just oozed off the trailers. i spared myself.
ataxi
Sep. 6th, 2006 01:20 pm (UTC)
Mallrats is really a very weak film. Doesn't have anything much going for it.
paulhaines
Sep. 6th, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC)
Clerks was the only flick of his I liked. Saw it 3 times in the 1st year. I thought he was going to be this great edgy comedic director, but after watching the formulaic formula formulated in Chasing Amy (though there were some funny scenes) I went off the man like a family suburb goes off Mr Baldy. And I can't fucking stand Ben Asslick, so I blame Kevin Smith for a lot of things these days.
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