After producing a number of additional movies set in the “View Askewniverse” centring on other characters, it was inevitable that Kevin Smith would one day write and direct a true sequel to the film that started it all. Released 12 years after its 1994 predecessor, Clerks II denotes another home run for Smith; it’s a sequel that’s just as good as the picture which spawned it. The film also finds the writer-director back in the territory where he belongs after a brief pit-stop with 2004’s harshly-received PG-13 drama Jersey Girl. Smith is in fine form here, providing plenty of amusing dialogue, some smutty humour and a bit of heart on the side. Clerks II wears its heart on its sleeve; it’s a love letter to both its fans and the beloved slackers at the centre of the Clerks universe.
When a fire destroys the Quick Stop convenience store and takes the video shop with it, Dante (O’ Halloran) and Randal (Anderson) take thankless jobs at fast food establishment Mooby’s. The pair are now in their mid-30s, and Dante is ready to settle down and start a family with his fiancée Emma (Schwalbach Smith). Dante is on the verge of moving to Florida with Emma, and faces his final shift with Randal, who’s every bit as crude, sarcastic and cynical as he’s always been. Complicating Dante’s life is his boss Becky (Dawson), with whom he has developed a close bond; so close, in fact, that they had a brief liaison behind Emma’s back. Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) spend their time outside the fast food restaurant, continuing their daily routine of harassing people and selling drugs.
Through cynical eyes, Clerks II can be perceived as a fundamental remake of its black and white forerunner, right down to a love triangle involving Dante and two women vying for his affection. But while there are similarities, Clerks II is not just a lazy rehash, as Smith does enough fresh and daring things while taking the characters to new places. From a narrative viewpoint, it’s the perfect sequel. The way Dante and Randal continue to accept their mediocre lives is an ideal backdrop for Smith’s trademark brand of humour, and it’s unfailingly entertaining to watch these guys slaving away at low-wage jobs without ever catching a break. Furthermore, Clerks II retains the original film’s proclivity for nerdy pop-culture references. Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are both referenced, while Michael Bay’s live-action Transformers movie – which was in pre-production when Clerks II was shot – is brought up. The stream of witty dialogue is never-ending, making for highly entertaining viewing. Smith even crams in cameos by such recognisable stars as Jason Lee (on his day off from filming My Name is Earl) and Ben Affleck.
Despite how hilarious the original Clerks. is, it’s not just a collection of profane comedic dialogue; it additionally provides shrewd observations on life as a retail worker. Fortunately, Clerks II is also about something. Beneath all of the gross-out humour, pop-culture references and expletives, the film is a solid thesis on the collateral damage of growing up. The concept is clichéd, to be sure, but Smith handles the material with more sensitivity, skill and honesty than most comedies, and this stuff doesn’t just come off as an obligatory rom-com distraction. The crux of this is revealed after the gang are put behind bars, when Dante and Randal hash out their feelings for one another. It’s a surprisingly good scene, both poignant and funny, which gives these characters a solid sense of dimension. And the payoff is outstanding. Trash Smith for his outspoken nature if you will, but the man is one hell of a writer.
Clerks. was shot on a paltry $27,000 which came out of Smith’s own pocket, resulting in a grainy, rough-looking picture that left a lot to be desired from a technical perspective. Clerks II corrects all of this, with Smith working on a more generous budget to produce a smoother, more attractive and generally more accessible movie. The fact that the film looks more polished reflects the growth of both the characters and Smith as a filmmaker. Smith’s direction is still fairly workmanlike, but the real appeal of the film is the dialogue and character interaction, which more than carries the movie through to the finish line.
Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson seamlessly slid back into the roles of Dante and Randal here as if no time had passed. On several occasions, the pair exchange dialogue with the precision of professional tennis players. In the interim between Clerks. and Clerks II, Smith brought these characters into comic book, cartoon and action figure realms, but it’s clear that these boys belong in live-action movies spouting Smith’s sublimely witty dialogue. Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith also return here to play Jay and Silent Bob. It’s clear that Smith carefully planned their screen-time, as the duo’s every appearance is hysterical. If the sight of Jay re-enacting Buffalo Bill’s dance from The Silence of the Lambs doesn’t provoke tears of laughter, there’s a good chance you have lockjaw. The highlight, though, is Silent Bob finally opening his mouth towards the end. Another fitting addition to the cast is Rosario Dawson. Her character of Becky is every bit Randal’s equal, and their verbal sparring matches are uproarious.
Although Clerks II lacks the spark of freshness which characterised the first film, it’s an utter treat, and it stands as one of few sequels that both perfectly complements and is respectful towards its predecessor. As long as you have a tolerance for shocking humour (a sequence involving a donkey pushes the boundaries of bad taste, and Randal rattles off a lot of racist slurs), Clerks II is a great comedy and a satisfying addition to the Kevin Smith canon.