When film theorists of the future take stock of Kevin Smith's oeuvre, here's hoping Clerks II is remembered as the worthless travesty that cemented the auteur's irrelevancy. Stripping Clerks of its inspired, lo-fi charm, replacing it with slick Technicolor and keeping only the vulgarity, Smith unnecessarily revisits two obnoxious characters in a desperate, lazy, hollow attempt to regain his core constituency after the Jersey Girl debacle.
Clerks can still be considered a worthy component of the late-'80s/early-'90s indie boom (along with Do the Right Thing, Slacker, Trust, et al), but mostly because it was very much a product of its time. Its unhinged verbal obscenities made '80s gross-out flicks like Caddyshack feel like children's films by comparison. But in 2006, the freshness of hearing a brash video-store clerk rattle off dozens of porno titles in front of a little girl feels stale now that the envelope has been pushed to its limits by the American Pie movies and Trey Parker's entire filmography.
It's not 1994 anymore, yet Smith assumes that repeating ad nauseam the term 'ass-to-mouthâ?� sex (which eats up a good five minutes of Clerks II's running time) is in itself funny. Or that simply seeing Ben Affleck walk on screen will conjure up laughs, even though he's not given anything remotely amusing to say. Or that merely referencing characters from other Smith films or visually reprising their mise-en-scÃ¨nes will engender knowing smiles. Having already gone back to this well with his inside-joke vanity project Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, it's inexcusable for Smith to make a film whose appeal is this restricted to his legion of fans in the View Askewniverse ' as disposable and tailored to its demographic as the studio product Smith used to shun.
Actually, Clerks II is worse than that. Promising 'The new and improved Jay and Silent Bobâ?� in an early intertitle, Smith mixes his dick and fart jokes with Jersey Girl's syrupy romantic clichÃ©s, proving that he's not only out of anything to say but can't even learn from his mistakes.
Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson reprise their roles as Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, respectively, who are now in their mid-'30s and still working in low-level service jobs. After their Quick Stop burns down (in a brief, black-and-white prologue), we find the characters employed at Mooby's, a corporate fast-food restaurant. The two actors are still affected automatons, forever anticipating each other's next line under Smith's heavily stylized, Brecht-butchering dialogue direction. Not a lot has changed in their characters' love lives, either: As in Clerks, Dante is torn between two women, including the store's gorgeous manager (Rosario Dawson), whose interest in this schlub is one of the film's great mysteries. Dante's interest in her goes against his need to settle down with his fiancee (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, the director's wife) and move to Florida, thus bringing back the Clerks debate of changing your life versus remaining in service stasis ' 'shit or get off the pot,â?� as Smith puts it.
As a writer/director, Smith is content to stay on the pot, filling his characters' cesspool mouths with sophomoric slang, adding unfunny cameos from his friends (like Affleck and Jason Lee) and using his dramatis personae as mouthpieces for superficial rants about The Lord of the Rings and Transformers. The faux maturity on display in the director's 360-degree tracking shots and sunny music-video montages (fans of Talking Heads' '(Nothing But) Flowersâ?� and Smashing Pumpkins' '1979â?� should beware Smith's trampling of these sacred-ground tunes) sets back the actual maturation evidenced in Chasing Amy.
Smith's Silent Bob character has long been a font of profound one-liners, capable of capturing a movie's grand message in a whittled-down sound bite. Such a moment is set up here, and the soft-spoken Bob responds with an observation that can now be read as a metaphor for Smith as a filmmaker: 'I got nothin'.â?� Indeed.