Over the Counter Culture

Washington City Paper | July 21, 2006
Maybe, in the 12 years since Kevin Smith’s Clerks came out, we as viewers have become more accustomed to seeing the film’s distinguishing characteristics combined onscreen: pop-culture obsessions, filthy words, and even filthier scenarios. Smith, naturally, became his own imitator, continuing to examine his fixations in his subsequent movies. But even television has done them, in series such as Strangers With Candy, Crank Yankers, and the always-topical, always-raunchy South Park. If we aren’t suitably and giddily shocked by the films and shows that seem to exist solely for this purpose, it’s not our fault, is it?

Maybe it’s the culture’s fault. It couldn’t possibly be Smith’s—right? Not the guy who’s the hero of potty-mouthed, life-beaten geeks everywhere. But how about the guy who allowed the long-announced Clerks II to be publicized with a poster that features Rosario Dawson placed saucily front and center, displacing the potty-mouthed, life-beaten geeks who were Smith’s heroes in the original? Sure, she might have earned some fanboy cred in Sin City—but that black-and-white bundle of debauchery is worlds and dollars away from Smith’s color-free $27,000 debut.

II picks up 10 character years after its 1994 predecessor. Best buds and nearly lovable Jersey losers Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are no longer working at the Quick Stop and RST Video because of a fire, shown in an inspired opening scene that makes the transition from black and white to color. They begin slacking instead at Mooby’s, an Everychain fast-food joint. Then Dante decides to quit so he can move to Florida with his well-off fiancée, Emma (Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, who’s obviously hopped on the show-your-skeleton train). There, he’ll run his father-in-law’s car wash. But he’s still a little torn between staying in Jersey or starting a grown-up life. And it doesn’t help that he gets all goo-goo-eyed around his boss, Becky (Dawson), and even—ugh—paints her toenails in her office.

Will he stay or will he go? Smith has been vocal about wanting to present the dilemmas facing the increasing population of adolescents in their 30s, just as the first Clerks mirrored the lives of college-aged slackers who might bitch about their dead-end jobs but deep down love how punching a clock postpones the grown-up world. The main theme here is deciding whether to do what you love or to do what others expect you to love, and as the movie nears the end of its 98 minutes, things get pretty touching. With the clock ticking down on Dante’s last day, Randal even makes a heartfelt speech. Consider yourself warned.

But given that mushiness is not what Clerks was all about—not to mention the cred-flogging Smith received the last time he ventured into heartfelt territory, with Jersey Girl (a movie he thanks in II’s closing credits for teaching him how to “take it up the ass”)—the majority of the sequel tries hard to recapture the original’s demimonde. Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are back, though they’re now 12-steppers. (When a buyer asks Jay if he’s tempted to get high, he responds in his unchanged stoner voice, “Not with the power of Jesus Christ on my side!”) Dante is still burdened by the weight of responsibility as Randal constantly pulls him away from his duties. And, of course, there are still heated movie debates, which are the film’s funniest scenes: Randal goes off on The Lord of the Rings, mimicking the action in the trilogy and exasperatedly letting it be known that “there’s only one Return, and that’s of the Jedi!”

Too bad, then, that most of Clerks II’s naughty bits seem as contrived as Clerks’ seemed natural. There are some tired screw-the-customers ideas apparently borrowed from Waiting..., a running gag on racial slurs, and one disgusting bachelor-party send-off featuring a gay-themed “donkey show.” (OK, the term “interspecies erotica” is kinda funny.) Worse, though, is the head-scratching filler: a seemingly unending go-kart scene, an attempt by Becky to teach Dante how to dance—on the roof, à la the original’s hockey game. Twelve years ago, Randal and Dante would have been appalled.

Smith might get something of a pass for allowing Dawson a chance to sex things up, but the choreographed, seemingly townwide number that follows is arguably more sickening than the interspecies stage show. The idea, of course, is that it’s supposed to be sickening—an announcement that, if Kevin Smith is going to go squishy on us again, this time he’s also going to make fun of himself for it. It’s an awkward moment typical of an awkward movie—one that finds its director doing, yes, what he loves, but obviously a little less than he used to.

Washington City Paper

In a city where a great deal of attention is focused on national affairs, Washington City Paper maintains a relentless emphasis on local Washington. City Paper serves as the definitive local guide to cultural and civic life in the District...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 1400 I St. NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
  • Phone: (202) 332-2100