Clerks II [retro review]

r2clerks“There’s only one ‘Return,’ and it’s not of the King, it’s of the Jedi!”

The Scoop: 2006 R, directed by Kevin Smith and starring Kevin Smith, Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson

Tagline: With No Power Comes No Responsibility

Summary Capsule: A decade later, Dante and Randal have not exactly moved up in the world, but find it’s less acceptable to be thirtysomething slackers than twentysomething slackers.

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Drew’s Rating: My clerking bane? People who don’t put their freakin’ books away when they’re done reading them. You know who you are!

Drew’s Review: I’m ashamed to admit it, being the only Jersey-born mutant on staff, but this is the first of Kevin Smith’s infamous Jersey Trilogy I’ve reviewed. Not because I dislike the series; far from it, I cherish every movie in it (yes, even Mallrats). But by the time I joined MRFH, every last one of them had been reviewed multiple times from varying perspectives… I guess I just didn’t feel like I had much to add. But now the moment I’ve waited years for has finally arrived — a new View Askewniverse (hereinafter “VA”) film for me to sink my teeth into. Score one for the Jerz!

We pick up… exactly where we left our intrepid slackers 10 years ago, still working at a convenience store, still swearing up a storm and bantering about pop culture minutiae. But when a fire burns the Quick Stop to the ground (noooooo!), Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are forced to seek new employment at fast food chain Mooby’s. Cut to one year later, and Dante’s finally on the brink of some change: namely, moving to Florida to marry clingy fiancée Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) and run her father’s car wash. But first he has to get through one last day of clerking, with acerbic friend Randal pretending he’s not hurt by his pal’s impending departure, as well as work out his feelings for boss Becky (Rosario Dawson) and steer clear of born again stoners Jay and Silent Bob. Oh yeah, and what’s this I hear about a donkey show?

First things first, because there was a very real danger of it — I can honestly say that Clerks II is capable of standing on its own, independent of its predecessor. Despite Smith’s frequent jokes in interviews, the movie truly doesn’t feel like just going back to the well. Some common elements are revisited, as they should be; but even those that hearken back to the original play out in different ways, like Dante’s rooftop activities or his fight with Randal near the end of the film. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of new hijinx that carry the spirit of the original without simply retreading old territory… things like fights between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings geeks, the difference between Anne Frank and Helen Keller, and Randal’s attempts to “reclaim” a racial slur. But perhaps most importantly, the overall theme just feels different. Clerks, if it even had one, was about resolving to take control of your life if you’re so unhappy with it. In contrast, the sequel urges reexamining your circumstances to decide whether they’re really so bad after all… a nice, skillfully handled transition, reflecting the changes that accompany aging without invalidating the earlier, more youthful perspective.

While I was a big fan of the ending (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it), it may prove divisive among moviegoers. One thing that set Clerks apart from some of Smith’s later movies is that most of the film (with one or two exceptions) felt pretty down-to-earth in tone – people could really relate to the circumstances and dialogue being tossed around. Despite relying on a more unrealistic way of getting there, I think Clerks II tries to go the same route with its own ending. And that’s good; while I liked the cameo-heavy romp that closed out J&SBSB, I also felt a bit let down that we didn’t get a more subdued, introspective close to a series that began that way. II gives us that, and in the process allows fans to pick their preferred ending: whether it’s the fun-filled mega-party of J&SBSB or the… well, that would be telling. I’ll say only this, regarding one particular scene near the end: some will call it sappy and overwrought, and I know I’m a softie, but seeing Randal actually get emotional makes up for every vulgar, ignorant, and blasphemous thing he’s ever said. (Almost.)

Some people will be upset at the mere existence of this movie. When you publicly vow you’ve ended a series and then make another one, that’s inevitable… only Sherlock Holmes ever got away with it unscathed. And it’s not going to change anyone’s opinions of Kevin Smith – if you hate all his past movies, you’ll hate this one too. But I’ll say this: those who cherish the original should also love II, as Smith infuses it with not just the gross-out humor he’s known for, but also the intelligence (Clerks) and heart (Chasing Amy) present in his best movies to create a truly worthy sequel. Who knows whether there’ll be any more VA films… but if this does end up being the actual last one, the series is being sent off appropriately. Farewell, Dante and Randal – we’ll miss you. Snoogans.

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Justin’s Rating: 37 Fond Memories of New Jersey

Justin’s Review: Ha ha, Mr. Kevin Smith. Just when I think it’s over, you have to go and pull me right back in. You’re like a funny version of the Mafia.

Nostalgia is a funny thing — it encapsulates the best memories of times and places long since past, as well as our emotions and senses surrounding those events. Because time keeps marching forward, what is in the past is effectively gone to us, except in the mind. Our nostalgia can become overwhelmingly strong because of this, since we know that these cherished memories are fading in our rearview mirrors and will never be seen again. Nostalgia also holds a bitter side when revisited, as we learn that our minds often take past events and gloss them over with a perfect shine, obscuring the dirtier details. Your first kiss might’ve been with someone who lacked full bipedal movement or fresh breath, but… it was your first. How can you mind remember it as anything other than terrific?

Movies dispel nostalgia simply because while we might change, they never do (well, unless George Lucas starts monkeying around with them). Time displaces the surrounding events of how we first saw the movie — the hype, our viewing partners, any emotional baggage we carried with us into the theater — leaving the film stripped bare to fall or stand on its own merit. Me and nostalgia had words when it came to revisiting the original Clerks, which I rewatched again before seeing Clerks II.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve never idolized Clerks nor saw it as a perfect film. Then again, most cult flicks are deserving of neither. That’s why they’re cult. But Clerks was one of the linchpins that held MRFH together in its early days: an indie black-and-white comedy with sarcasm, provocative subjects, pop culture references, and a setting that felt real, in its own way. Among geeks, Clerks has become a highly-quotable source (“37!?!”, “I’m not supposed to be here today!”) and the launchpad for Smith’s “Jersey Trilogy”, which now extends into film #6.

Smith stated that while Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was the ending to his trilogy, Clerks II was the coda for the series. I think that’s right. Clerks II is not the big-budget spectacle that JSBSB or Dogma was, electing instead to return to the roots of the series and bring it full circle for some good ol’-timey closure.

With a donkey show.

It’s a decade after the events of Clerks, and best pals Dante and Randal are digging into their 30’s while still clerking. After the Quickstop and RST Video burn to the ground, they aspire to nothing greater than employment at Mooby’s, a McDonald’s knock-off. Dante is on his last day of the job, ready to move to Florida with his overcontrolling fiancée, and Randal is facing an odd mid-life crisis when he’s faced with the fact that he’s really done nothing with his life other than be a wordy, sarcastic jerk to customers and friends alike.

Jay and Silent Bob, fresh from rehab, come back to do what they do best — hang out, sell weed and dance like wild monkeys. To round out the main cast is Elias, a Christian teen who’s also a Lord of the Rings/Transformers nerd, and Becky, their manager who looks suspiciously like Rosario Dawson. Becky and Dante make enough moony eyes over each other to let us know that a love triangle is in the works. Uh-oh!

Dante’s final day as a clerk could’ve been morbid or melancholy, but happily Clerks II is a breezy 97 minutes of comedy and bizarre conversations that compliment all of Smith’s body of work perfectly. In contrast to Clerks, this sequel shows polish and actual acting skills (why Jeff Anderson never made it big in Hollywood is far beyond me), but doesn’t stray far from the cult roots that were planted way back in the early 90’s. Smith toys around with the theme of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, and surprisingly doesn’t come down hard on his lead subjects as you might expect. Instead, he treats nostalgia as something that isn’t always bad, because sometimes the past might be just as good as you remember, and something to hold on to.

I might not be the most rabid watcher of the Jersey trilogy as I used to be, but it is comforting to know that age doesn’t always take away the fun and joy in life. We might be in different places than we used to be, or some of the same, but we’ve come forward, learned a few new things, and still refuse to take crap from whiny, pampered customers.

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Lissa’s Rating: I was going to quote the Buffalo Bill line that Jay quotes, but that’s so asking for trouble, even if it would be funny and appropriate to the movie (but not the website).

Lissa’s Review: I’ll be honest with you — I really don’t like the first Clerks movie. I know, I know, that’s sacrilege for a Mutant. But I really don’t. It’s not the cheap production or the stilted acting that ruins the movie for me, it’s the characters themselves. I don’t like any of them, especially Dante and Randall. It’s probably not such a big deal with Randall, because you’re meant to be amused by him, not sympathize with him. But I just want to kick Dante in the butt and tell him to stop whining and get his pathetic rear in gear. Which Silent Bob sort of did for me, so I guess that’s okay. Anyway, I don’t think I saw Clerks first in the Jersey trilogy, so I stuck with Kevin Smith and have enjoyed all of his subsequent efforts (and yes, that includes Mallrats) far more than the original.

So it’s ten years later, and Dante and Randall both still annoy me to no end. But now their tedium is broken up with more amusing characters, like Dante’s fiancée (who has more humor than Veronica did) and his lover-boss Becky (who isn’t anywhere near the nut that Caitlen was), the hapless Elias, and more Jay and Silent Bob, which is always a good thing. It’s a good thing even when Jay is imitating Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, which can be kind of disturbing (especially since he’s supposedly a prophet of God and a born-again Christian. Heh.) Anyway, as advertised by others, it’s Dante’s last day before he migrates south to Florida thirty years ahead of schedule and gets married to a woman who is supposedly over-controlling (but I’ll get there in a minute). And of course, complications ensue. (If by complications you mean pregnancy and a donkey show.)

Kevin Smith might have a crude sense of humor, but the man knows how to tell a story. What I liked was that he smoothly dropped the viewer right into the situation and the plotlines. Smith did a rare thing — he actually credited his audience with some intelligence. He decided we might actually figure out what was up with Becky and Dante if we didn’t see every last detail of the beginning of their romance, and what do you know — he was right! I thought he did a very good job of capturing one day and working in the background without resorting to obvious exposition.

That said, I never did figure out why everyone calls Dante’s fiancée over-controlling. Sure, she’s the alpha in the relationship, but let’s face it — if it were left to Dante, no decisions would ever be made. Dante needs a girl who can either a.) grab him by the, erm, scruff of the neck and haul him to wherever they’re going or b.) say, “okay, see ya!” and go off and do her own thing and be content with that. Dante is something of a self-righteous, boring lump, and I also don’t understand how he always manages to have two gorgeous women in love with him. Come on girls, he’s not that great a catch. Seriously.

Can you tell this guy really just bugs me? If you want, I can try to give him a couple of points. Let’s see. He’s responsible… if he’s not off go-karting, that is. Okay, let’s try again. He’s loyal… if your name is Randall. He’s a good friend… but he didn’t even stop for a moment to consider his very best friend might take his moving so far hard. Are you seeing my point? Plus, this is at least the second time he’s cheated on a woman he was in a monogamous relationship with. Girls in Kevin Smith world — STOP LUSTING OVER THE LOSER! He’s not even cute or rich and I seriously doubt he’s well… off. Yes, everyone deserves love, but a guy like this getting two gorgeous girls? Twice? Ew.

Anyway, Dante issues aside, I enjoyed Clerks 2. For the most part, I enjoyed it exactly as much as I expected to. I’ve seen all the Kevin Smith movies, I know what to expect, and I got it. There were moments that made me cringe, and moments that made me roll on the floor laughing (pretty much any time Elias was around). But every now and then — okay, at one point — I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I’m sorry, but that much ballyhooed donkey show? It’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie, even if it is just so wrong. Given that I normally hate gross-out humor, this is high praise people. So yeah. It was a great ending (coda, epilogue, whatever) to the infamous Jersey Trilogy, and I don’t mind Kevin Smith plotting how he’ll spend the money he got off me. He earned it.

"Welcome to Mooby Town, may we service you?"

"Welcome to Mooby Town, may we service you?"

Intermission!

  • The (slightly modified) old “I assure you, we’re open!” sign? That thing’s more smile-inducing than it has any right to be.
  • You may feel the ending is a bit deus ex machine — and it is — but remembering the events of J&SBSB helps shed some light on how it might be possible.
  • Never thought I’d see one again after college, but Jay shows us his mangina. Ew.
  • Becky’s line “Face it, tiger, you hit the jackpot!” is a reference to Mary Jane Watson’s first words to Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man.
  • Unlike Dante, I’m already married, but if Rosario Dawson was teaching me to dance on a rooftop… damn.
  • Also, I’m totally using “burger-peddling loser who couldn’t even bust a move” as an insult from now on.
  • Another Jackson 5 musical number… and Randal does his ramble! Sweet!
  • The little girl who waves at Dante is Harley Quinn, Kevin Smith’s daughter.
  • I know life isn’t perfect and not every character can have a happy ending, but one in particular seemed to get the shaft without having done much to deserve it… though in that respect, it’s actually similar to the original Clerks.
  • In Jay’s last scene, his shirt reads “Justice TF” (together forever), a reference to Shannon Elizabeth’s character from J&SBSB.
  • The final shot of the movie includes a sign reading “Just because we serve you doesn’t mean we like you,” echoing the original’s tagline.
  • The fire truck that pulls up is number 37
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was originally intended as Kevin Smith’s final VA movie, and his next film (Jersey Girl) was devoid of Jay, Silent Bob, and all the other recurring characters. But in compiling the 10th anniversary DVD of Clerks, Smith claims he regained his love for the characters and wanted to explore where life had taken them in their 30s. That, plus a promise he had made to Jason Mewes (Jay) that if Mewes stayed clean and sober, he would consider bringing the characters back for another movie, led to Clerks II. Smith has since claimed that J&SBSB is still the final chapter of the series, but Clerks II is the epilogue.
  • While most of Kevin Smith’s films have featured recurring characters, Clerks II is the first direct sequel. It was originally slated to follow Dogma, until Smith decided to do J&SBSB instead.
  • At various stages, subtitles discussed for Clerks II included “Still Clerkin’,” “Hardly Clerkin’,” “Clerk Harder,” and “The Passion of the Clerks.”
  • When Jason Lee arrived to shoot his cameo, Kevin Smith mock-seriously told him he’d have to shave his mustache. This led to a lengthy argument as Lee said he had to keep it for his role on “My Name Is Earl”… until Smith revealed he was only joking.
  • Other taglines for the movie included “Standing for truth. Standing for justice. Standing around.”; “Leading the war against counter-terrorism”; and “They still don’t like you. In fact, they like you even less.”

Groovy Quotes

[Watching the Quick Stop burn]
Randal: Terrorists?
Dante: …
Randal: I left the coffee pot on again, didn’t I?
Dante: Yep.

Jay: Or maybe be an astronaut. Be like the first guy to visit a new galaxy. Be the first to find a new alien life form – and [nail] it. Then everywhere you went, people’d be like, “Yo, there’s the guy that [nailed] a martian!”

Elias: As it turns out, cars and trucks that turn into robots aren’t all that blasphemous. Because God created Man and Man created the Transformers, they’re kind of like a gift from God.

Elias: I turn down chicks left and right!
Randal: Your chicks are your left and right.

Randal: There’s only one “Return,” and it’s not of the King, it’s of the Jedi!

LotR Fan: Hey, they’re not gay, they’re hobbits!

Randal: How the [frick] do you always have two gorgeous women who want you?! You’re a hideous [freaking] C.H.U.D.!

Silent Bob: …I got nothin’.

Randal: Hey, you know what the best part is?
Dante: What?
Randal: You’re not even supposed to be here today.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Quote of the Day: Clerks II | Mutant Reviewers

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