In 1994, writer/director Kevin Smith exploded onto the scene with a little black and white independent feature called Clerks. The film introduced cinemagoers to a multitude of characters, including Jay and Silent Bob, a duo of drug dealing slackers who became so popular; the director felt the urge to give them appearances in most of his other films. The real stars of the show, however, were the cashiers of the Quick Stop convenience store, where the entire film was set.
Randal Graves and Dante Hicks. They were like superheroes of the retail trade. They were old high school friends and their personalities played off each other brilliantly. Dante was the unhappy type too lazy to do anything to change his life (both with his job situation and his relationship with his girlfriend), while Randal was the foul-mouthed sidekick who hated people (and everything else for that matter) but loved gatherings. They were the kind of characters most of us could connect with. Who wouldn’t want to catch up with Randal and Dante 12 years later?
Unfortunately for us, this may have been a reunion better left to the imagination. Randal and Dante are still clerks but they have moved to a different place of employment since the Quick Stop burned down. They now work at a fast food chain (Mooby’s for you Askew nerds). Dante is still in a relationship blunder – his fiancée (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) is getting them ready to move in with her parents down in Florida but he is also involved in a secret relationship with his new manager Becky (Rosario Dawson). No one who has seen Rosario Dawson will be able to fathom why an actual problem exists in the first place but Dante isn’t that clever anymore. Randal is still the same old Randal but his shtick is a lot tamer and, dare I say, outdated.
One example of this involves Randal in a battle with a customer over which is a better trilogy, Star Wars (the old one of course) or The Lord of the Rings. The two go back and forth regurgitating jokes we’ve been hearing for the past 3 or 4 years but Smith attempts to sell them as fresh ideas. Sure, Randal and this customer are simply defending what they’ve grown up loving and cherishing, but there are much better defenses out there. Even the vulgarity, something Smith used to master quite well, seems obsolete, especially a sequence involving a donkey show found via the internet. That wasn’t so 1998 or anything.
What made the original Clerks stick out like a rusted nail was the fact that it was obviously made by an individual with a lot of passion for filmmaking, relationships and friendship. Like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back before it (a film which almost feels like it was written by the army of Askew message board posters than by the same dude who wrote Dogma), Clerks II feels as if it was made to appease the Smith fans still pissed by Jersey Girl. That film has sadly been disowned by its creator and to this day remains to be a terribly under-appreciated film liked only by Film Threat’s Don Lewis, Roger Ebert, and myself. Between that film and Amy, Kevin Smith has proved he has the heart to write some touching material without being too melodramatic (and I say that kindly).
In the world of music or stand up comedy, they say that a band/singer or a comedian spends their entire lives working on their first album or batch of material, which is usually why first albums are better than the rest of what they have to offer. This may be a reason why the first film was so memorable.
Now he has instead achieved the goal of a director who helped influenced his life. Clerks II is Smith’s Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones combined. It has the addition of an obnoxious Jar-Jar like side character (Trevor Fehrman’s Elias character), painfully wooden acting (with both Fehrman and Schwalbach Smith) and an agonizing romance plot with an equal amount of sphincter coiling chemistry for the audience (Dante’s predicament almost equals the sheer pain of Anakin and Padme’s).
Being a teen that hung out outside of various convenient stores in my youth (like Jay and Silent Bob) and eventually grew up working at video stores and other retail markets, Dante and Randal were characters I cherished and connected with. Over the past 12 years my imagination brought them to better places than where this film brings them. Just like the new Star Wars trilogy before it, my youth has been raped once more by another large man sporting a beard. Thankfully this one doesn’t wear flannel.