By Brad Laidman | August 29, 2001

“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”
Kevin Smith actually pulled it off. Clerks for me was kind of like the Beatles on Ed Sullivan were for so many nascent Rock stars. You’re stuck in a dead end town. You’re stuck in the purgatory of a job you hate. You love comic books, but you can’t draw. You love movies, but you barely know which end of a camera the lens is on. You squirrel away time writing a semi- autobiographical justification of your life, praying that somehow your quick wit and pop culture spewing point of reference will someday free you from the shackles of your own private hell. I was in the same spot. I had this novel, that I referred to as an existential cartoon. I even titled its word processing file God, because it represented what I thought was my last prayer of a chance at living a happy life.
Clerk’s reminds me a lot of a Quentin Tarantino project minus the criminals. The great love for twisted dialogue and linguistic attitude are certainly abundantly present and ring out like gunfire, but when Tarantino made Reservoir Dogs he had Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Michæl Madsen to work with. Kevin Smith had a couple of buddies, a convenience store, and some black and white film.
The two sides of Smith’s personality are represented by the put upon Dante (Brian O’Halloran), and the back talking Randal (Jeff Anderson). Randal most likely represents every bit of hostility and rage Smith ever felt for his job and the rest of the world. Randal does whatever he feels like, and says whatever he feels like saying. He’s a Rock Star minus the catalog and the talent. Some people would probably say that Jeff Anderson tends to sound like he is reading his dialogue right off of a page, but I think his Randal is just too ornery to put out any kind of effort into anything. Anderson, got pushed aside as soon as Smith got some money for some real actors, but his Randal is a beautiful hostile piece of work that only could have come from America. He’s the sort of guy who never put in a quality day at the office in his life, but somehow probably winds up winning the biggest lotto drawing ever with a ticket he stole from his loser best friend’s Quickie Mart. Watch him absentmindedly sell cigarettes to a four year-old girl in the thirty seconds he deems to help Dante watch the store. Be amazed when he closes the video store he runs to go rent porn from a bigger and better chain outlet. When he walks into the better store he acts like he has been delivered into heaven and seen God.
Jason Mewes and Smith make up the ever present drug dealing duo of Jay and Silent Bob, and they are also pretty damn humorous, although probably not enough to justify their continuing presence in every movie Smith ever makes. Sure “Mall Rat”‘s needed them, and they were barely there in “Chasing Amy,” but how in the world did they wind up in “Dogma” too. Enough already.
The dismissive world will note that Smith’s directorial chops did and still do need some work, but as a writer his dialogue is sweet, taut, funny, angry and appears to have been poured over many, many times while hoping for bigger and better things to come. His oeuvre just happens to be made up of the raunch and gutter philosophy of the over educated under motivated TV saturated nation of ne’er do wells and never weres. Every moment he gets to spend with the likes of Joey Lauren Adams, Linda Fiorentino, and any other women who wouldn’t have given Dante Hicks, convenience store manager, the time of day has to be gravy for him. He did it. He broke out of the defeating rat trap of life and tunneled his way into the storied, glamorous, and wickedly fun world of Hollywood usually reserved for guys taller, thinner and better looking than him. That guy was right. The pen is mightier than the sword and good thing too, because otherwise he would have spent the rest of his life paying for all the candy bars and Gatorade he fronted from his day job to get this thing made.

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