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.