Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Clerks 2

Kevin Smith has had an interesting relationship with the movie business over the last fifteen years or so. In 1996, he announced his arrival onto the silver screen with an accomplished little gem of a sleeper comedy named 'Clerks'. Packed with witty dialogue, memorable characters, novel set-pieces and daringly shot in black-and-white, Clerks attracted Smith a bit of a cult following, and much of the internet fanboy 'buzz' that goes with such a fan-base.

Smith followed Clerks with 'Mallrats', which, to be brutally honest, wasn't that much of a departure really.. it was in colour, but all the corner-stones of Clerks were still present: slackers making witty remarks in suburban New Jersey, kidults wondering what to do with their lives, Jay and Silent Bob, insightful criticism of other well-known movies... essentially Clerks, but from the other side of the counter.

Since then, much has been made of Smith's creativity somewhat dying on the vine. Although 'Dogma' was a pretty big hit, 'Chasing Amy' wasn't bad, and 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back' didn't do too badly for him, an air began to grow about Smith that cynics might say smacked of a lack of fresh new ideas.

What followed was perhaps Smith's attempt to move on from Jay and Silent Bob, but the results were less than auspicious... Tim Burton has his creative partner in Johnny Depp, and Steven Soderbergh has his in George Clooney, and these relationships have developed into creative alliances producing arguably their best work. Unfortunately for him however, Kevin Smith developed a bit of a creative relationship with, ahem... Ben Affleck. 'Jersey Girl' is the product of their second outing together (after Dogma)... and may have contributed to the demise of Affleck's career in Hollywood... (he's overdue a reinvention by the way, what price an Affleck career renaissance in the next 18 months!?)

So when your career is floundering in the Tinseltown water, what can you do? Well, you can ring the Weinsteins for one. And you can offer to make that sequel he's been asking you about all these years... hmmm... how much pride is swallowed before a call like that I wonder?

Kevin Smith is unique enough among apparently bigshot Hollywood directors in that he mixes it with on-line fans pretty regularly, giving updates from the sets of his movies, and diligently defending himself against the lunatic fringe of the internet. I'm not sure what his motivation for doing this is really, except maybe that he's a bit of a nerd himself, and he enjoys it. (Nothing wrong with that). However, I've read tirades he has written against semi-literate 'fans' from Hicksville, USA when they dare to criticize his work, and he doesn't hold back. His verbal onslaughts vary in severity from a tirade such as the ones Randall would deliver in Clerks 2, to something of a terse one-liner of the stoner variety from the likes of Jay, but these insults are always infused with the defensive vernacular of the regular internet forum poster.. now if you have ever read an internet forum, you will understand that arguments between varying stages of pond-life often develop, over such weighty topics such as 'Matrix vs. LOTR wich iz betr?' and such and such. This is why, although I admire Kevin Smith's wish to get closer to his audience, I would question his decision to roll his sleeves up and mix it in arguments with these people..

So, here's my frank admission folks, I'm not a big Kevin Smith fan. I loved 'Clerks' though, and the sequel got good reviews, so I thought, what the hey, I'll give it a go... And, to be honest, it didn't suck too badly. But it's just infused with the kind of personality that Smith has developed through spending too much time on the internet. The movie references are sometimes funny, but the targets are too simple, too obvious, and the diatribes lack the many insights offered in the script of the first Clerks movie.

I remember an excellent speech made by the Randall character in the first movie about innocent workers on the Death Star in 'Star Wars' getting wiped out by Luke Skywalker's rebels. Randall was questioning who the actual bad guys were, and this was a funny insight, a different way of looking at the movie. In the sequel, Randall insults a 'Lord of the Rings' fan in slightly more basic terms, by describing what the Hobbits should have done to each other at the end of the third movie... and it's not that this is completely unfunny, but the ideas in first movie were a lot better. It's like the writers of 'Frasier' were switched with those from 'That 70's Show'... "Sick burn, dude" etc etc. (And yes, that line is used in Clerks II).

I hesitate to suggest it, but I think Mr. Smith may possibly be trying to pander to an internet fanboy audience here... but no, that couldn't be right, could it?

Aaanyway, that said, there are funny moments on offer in this movie. The new female characters don't have a hell of a lot to offer in terms of comedy (or drama for that matter), but Randall and Dante's colleague in their new place of employment has some good moments. Elias (played by Trevor Fehrman) is a God-fearing christian and a virgin, a fan of Transformers and Lord of the Rings, and takes copious and regular abuse from Dante and Randall, the two main characters. His is the best performance in the movie, and if there's any justice, he'll survive the association with Kevin Smith, and go on to have a Hollywood career. However, the abuse levelled at Elias throughout the movie smacked of the diatribes of Mr. Smith I referred to earlier, and I got the impression the script of Clerks II contained a lot of speeches contrived by Smith to allow him to vent forth against his least favourite nerds, the ones that perhaps touched some nerves in those internet forums.... (perhaps one of them had the handle 'optimus_prime'?)

Jay and Silent Bob are back too. The Jay character gets a couple of laughs, and Kevin Smith is actually relatively funny as Silent Bob, but the joke is pretty old at this stage. Something inventive was needed to make these two as funny as they were in the first Clerks movie, and whatever this required inspiration was, it was not found for Clerks II. They make you smile, sure, but through mundane familiarity almost.

Dante and Randall, the two main characters from both movies, are pretty much unchanged since the first movie. Randall is as cynical and juvenile as ever, as well versed in Hollywood blockbusters as he is in internet porn and still living at his mom's at the age of thirty-three. Dante, on the other hand, has a fiancee, and wants to make something of his life, get married, move on, all that stuff. But is there a little spark between himself and his rather lovely boss, played by Rosario Dawson?

At it's heart, Clerks II is about growing up, knowing what's good for you, and knowing who your friends really are. So amid the pithy put-downs and knowing sleights on more successful movies, there are moments of emotion in the movie. Randall's worried that his best friend is leaving to marry a girl for the wrong reasons, and Randall is also worried about being left alone. Dante isn't certain he's marrying his fiancee because he loves her, or simply because it's the grown-up thing to do, and Dante's boss, who apparently doesn't believe in romantic love, seems to carry a torch for Dante... Emotions run high towards the end of the movie, but it didn't really convince me to be honest, mainly because the acting is generally quite poor.

There are a number of interesting cameos, however, including an entirely superfluous appearance by Mr. Affleck himself. The best of these is by Jason Lee, who you may know from the TV show 'My Name is Earl'. His 'pickle-fucker' story is so horrific, it must have an element of truth to it, although I'm sure names have been changed to protect the innocent!

So is 'Clerks II' worth watching? Well, as a straight-out comedy, it will appeal to fans of gross-out humour, and as a romantic comedy, it probably won't really appeal to many. It's not as if it was overly ambitious, it's just that in my book, it didn't really hit the marks it was aiming for.

I don't mean to be too hard on Kevin Smith, but he should perhaps get his ass out of the internet forums and the comic book conventions, and go watch something really worthy and inspirational, like 'Southpark'.. or, like, whatever. (OH yeah! ... totally sick burn!)

The verdict: not funny enough to be a good comedy, and not heart-warming enough to be romantic. Just plain average.
The rating: 5/10

1 comment:

sammyray said...

I agree entirely with your review, except that you should have added that Smith needs to go back and work at that convenience store and STOP MAKING MOVIES!


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