I saw two movies in the spring of 1995, just before graduation, that changed me forever. The first was Pulp Fiction, which affected me for multiple reasons (wit, dialogue, jumbled storylines, ridiculous characters). The second was Clerks, Kevin Smith’s $27K indie masterpiece that gave hacks everywhere the belief that they could spin straw into gold as well…but what it really did was send thousands of would-be filmmakers into credit card hell. I’d like to say that I connected with Clerks for the same reasons as Pulp, the humor and dialogue were both razor-sharp, the scenarios were far-fetched (closing the store to play hockey on the roof?), and it was, at that time, a dissertation in scatology. But I connected with Clerks because I was two months into what would become a three-year odyssey as a grocery store clerk. I can’t tell you how many times I had to make sure the cheese was $2.09 and not $2.39, or cleaning up a jack-knifed spaghetti sauce display, or being accused of shortchanging a customer. So when I saw these two men lambaste customers, order porn in front of children, accuse people of their “cunning attempt to trick,” and destroy the store, they were no longer men. They were legends.
11 years later, I returned to the scene of the crime. Mr. Smith brought his two slackers back for an encore in Clerks II (I wish Smith would have stuck with The Passion of the Clerks, for I hate simply adding a number to the original title, but I hope his reasons were of the litigious nature and not sheer laziness), this time, two 33 year-olds still jockeying customer service jobs. But the place has changed, for the Quick Stop burned down, and we find our anti-heroes working in the “catfish” position of society: fast food. In a smart move, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) works the counter, while the ever-vocal Randall (Jeff Anderson) works prep. Dante’s life has changed a bit since we last saw him: gone are Caitlin and Veronica (thank God), and enter his wealthy fiancée, Emma (played by Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach). But it’s still the same Dante: “ever backing down.”
I realize this is a review, but I’m such a fan of not ruining great gags or inadvertently giving plot points, that I will dwell in ambiguity. Let me simply say that this film shouldn’t disappoint Askewniverse fans. Those of you who loved the obscure references and stupid shit men talk about, it’s there. For those of you want a romantic fuzzy feeling, it’s there (even if interspecies erotica is your thing). For those of you who are looking for insight on which parts of the body should never connect, the ultimate “trilogy” debate, an extended diatribe on racial slurs, a nod to 80s teen movies with an over-the-top dance sequence (you know, when people just come out of the woodwork and the shit’s already choreographed?), and, of course, those pesky trolls who live in the nether-regions, guarding the sacred flower, it’s there. The film does dip into the sentimental cheese-bag towards the end, but only for a few minutes, as opposed to that Gouda wheel Jersey Girl (sorry, I’m just not feeling it…not an Affleck fan)…even someone as blind as Anne Frank could see that.
I will give special nods to the following: Smith, for doing this on a $5M budget, and he didn’t compromise a thing, and for using his original Directory of Photography, Dave Klein (not that Smith’s imagery rivals Malick); O’Halloran and Anderson, for showing two guys that have aged, yet haven’t grown up; BIG UPS to newcomer Trevor Fehrman (who had me in stitches as the innocent Elias) and Rosario Dawson (the charming, sassy Becky)…I’d almost say this movie is theirs; and finally, Pillow Pants, Listerina, Kelly, and the Sexy Stud (we’ll leave it at that).
Which begs the final question: are great movies ruined by sequels? Some are (The Karate Kid…how do you top, “Put him in a body bag!”), and some are surpassed (do I even need to mention The Empire Strikes Back?). Clerks II is neither of those. I mentioned that the first made Dante and Randall legends. The second shows our two superheroes facing their archrival: Insignificance.