Whether it was a desperation move or a way to silence cult-loving fans of the original “Clerks,” Kevin Smith has finally remembered what great independent filmmaking is all about with his seventh film “Clerks II” (or as it was originally titled “Passion of the Clerks”).
Over a decade later, the beloved New Jersey clerks Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) are forced to leave the burnt down Quick Stop and move their monotonous yet always entertaining lives up the street to the famous fast food restaurant Mooby’s. Now in his thirties, Dante enters a mid-life crisis and begins to question his life and why he is still hanging around goalless misfits like his “best friend” Randal. Once the beautiful yet relationship-hating Becky (Rosario Dawson), his boss at Mooby’s, enters the picture, he is unable to decide what is most important to him and where he wants to go in life.
Aside from the big picture of Dante’s struggles, there’s actually quite a bit going on in the underlying storyline. Smith has somehow given a great deal of character to the two clerks whose hilarious dialogue alone made “Clerks” such a great film 12 years ago. Giving depth to Dante was a bit of a risk considering O’Halloran’s acting is yet to be deemed Hollywood worthy. Thankfully, letting Dawson steal the stage with an undeniably lovable presence, O’Halloran ends up looking like a good actor as he falls in love with her. Even Anderson gets a chance to give the hopeless Randal a chance to shine as a character with depth beyond his hated personality (as unbelievable as that may be). Smith is even able to set up a somewhat emotional climax between the negligent Randal and sensitive Dante when it seems as though the two must part ways. It’s apparent that Smith is back to writing as well as he did with “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma,” and it’s even more exciting to know his comedy is finally as memorable as it was in the ’90s.
The classic “Clerks” dialogue is poured into every scene with Smith going to the greatest lengths to score a laugh. Whether Randal is obliviously tossing racial slurs at customers or preparing a going-away “Donkey Show” for Dante, the comedy unfolds brilliantly. Randal plays off of the pure and innocent Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a virginal Mooby employee, to make some of the most memorable scenes such as a debate on “Lord of the Rings” versus “Star Wars” among other crude conversations that make critics like Joel Siegel walk out of theaters. Jay and Silent Bob make their usual appearance and fans of this duo will love their random musical scenes such as Michael Jackson’s “ABC.”
Believe it or not, but the unexpected performance by Dawson seemed to really push “Clerks II” into being a real movie rather than just an independent cult classic known for its originality (and the small fact that only cool people knew about it). Smith mentioned in a special Q&A following my screening that he hopes to put Dawson in every movie he makes. He also added that she should be given an Academy Award for acting in a role where she has to be attracted to Brian O’Halloran.
Everything seemed to just fall into place for Smith on his second visit into the world of Dante, Randal and the rest of the clowns in his unfiltered and witty circus. “Clerks II” has no chance of being as big of a cult classic as the original, but critics and fans alike can agree that the sequel is certainly a better film overall.
If this is the first time you’ve heard the name Kevin Smith, I applaud your moral integrity. But as Dante Hicks says, “This is the first day of the rest of our lives.” Ditch your integrity for a night and buy a ticket to great filmmaking and one of the best comedies of the year.