A worthy sequel for Clerks everywhere

by Glen Baity

When I saw Clerks for the first time, I was a 16-year-old counter jockey working in one of the crappier video stores in Lexington, NC. Three days a week after school and on weekends I parked myself behind the counter, propped my feet up next to the register and watched Monty Python on repeat. As high school jobs go, it was the best I could’ve hoped for. But of course there was, and is, no pleasing a teenager.

As good as I had it, I still thought my job sucked, and it was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one fielding questions like “Do you have the one with the guy who was in that movie that was out last year?”

As it turned out, some of my ensuing positions proved that I didn’t yet know from bad jobs. But even if I hadn’t long ago left the retail sector behind, I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t relish the low expectations that came with poking at a cash register like a trained monkey.

Also, because I’ve seen Clerks about 5 million times since it was released, I’ve come to think of the two sides of writer/director Kevin Smith’s personality, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), as old friends. Having known a number of good, smart people stuck in jobs like theirs, I was eager to see what eventually became of them.

When Clerks 2 picks up, we learn, to absolutely no surprise, that nothing of any real note has happened in the past 12 years, save one life-altering event: A fire at the Quick Stop has resulted in both man-boys taking up residence behind the counter at fast-food joint Mooby’s. Every day is still the same: Randal has an expletive-laced shouting match in front of a customer, which his co-workers then have to smooth over; work is abandoned at a moment’s notice for an impromptu go-kart rally; Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) still sling dope on the sidewalk out front; and Dante again finds himself on the precipice of a life-defining moment, plagued by second thoughts.

Clerks 2 obviously has more money behind it than the original, but it says a lot that it still feels like an intimate project. It necessarily lacks the no-budget charm of the first film, and Smith wisely doesn’t try to recapture it. The one is in color, there were clearly more than a few takes of each scene filmed, and there are no actors playing six different characters, as there were on the first go ’round.

But the broke-filmmaker ethos isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. What remains from the first Clerks, and what Smith conveys so well, is his obvious affection for these characters and the time they represent in his own life. It’s a sleeker package, but Clerks 2 is almost as funny, just as profane and equally as heartfelt as its predecessor.

Like the first film, underneath it all it’s a loving tribute to guys like Randal. You know the kind: He’s of that rare breed that actually appreciates and enjoys what they have, when they have it. Randal is content manning the counter, watching movies and arguing the merits of Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings. He genuinely doesn’t want anything else out of life. His character moves beyond the Gen-X slacker archetype defined by a thousand films in the early 1990s – Randal at age 33 is the real deal, exceedingly smart, but also a little stupid, shamelessly hedonistic and never more excited than when he is fortunate enough to witness the depths of human depravity. Slacking off, to him, isn’t a byproduct of his twenties. It’s a way of life, age notwithstanding.

The film boasts some good additions to the cast in Mooby’s manager Becky (a luminous Rosario Dawson) and virginal Transformers freak Elias (Trevor Fehrman). Both of these characters have some hilarious moments, and they fit perfectly in the Clerks universe, helping the film strike a balance between familiarity and freshness.

There are some moments that don’t work – a bizarre choreographed dance number in the middle that comes from beyond left field, as well as the already-notorious donkey show at the end, which will probably turn a few stomachs.

But the first movie had its own missteps, and if there’s any gift Kevin Smith possesses it’s the ability to ingratiate himself to the viewer despite his shortcomings as a filmmaker. He’s one of Hollywood’s precious few Regular Guys, a person who seems happy to engage in a dialogue about his films and who seems to care about his audience as much as he cares about his characters.

The ending, like the whole of the film that precedes it, is a celebration of unapologetic listlessness, and it bespeaks some eternal truths: That there is no universally applicable prescription for happiness and fulfillment, and that maturity is relative. It also holds the Zen-like idleness of ne’er-do-wells like Jay and Silent Bob in the highest regard, and really, so should we all. Smith might have a grown-up job these days, but a part of him, obviously, is still stocking shelves at the Quick Stop. It shows in the best way.

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