A review of CLERKS II, or any of Kevin Smith's films, must begin with the obligatory reference to CLERKS.
I liked CLERKS when I first saw it years ago. But since then, the quality of Smith's films, including my interest, has dropped steadily since, culminating in the god awful JERSEY GIRL. My interest was piqued, however, when CLERKS II was announced. I thought it was a mistake for Smith to do a sequel, but since it was the one film of his I enjoyed, I figured I would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Nope. Mistake. Smith's trajectory downward continues unabated. I really wanted to like this film. However, just because I wanted to give CLERKS II a pass and like it, couldn't prevent the fact that it's a poorly written, acted, and directed film. And at it's very core, it was created by a lazy auteur. Little attempt is made to create realistic dialogue, believable characters or even a credible fast food restaurant.
Taking place some 10 odd years in the future, CLERKS II finds our heroes, Dante and Randal, played respectively by Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson from CLERKS, still slaving away at their dead end jobs at the Quick Stop and Video Store until a fire forces them to finally move on. Moving on, however, only means moving down the street to another dead end called Moobys, a fictional fast food restaurant Smith resurrected from his View Askewniverse. The other cast of characters includes Mooby's manager Becky (played by Rosario Dawson) with an inexplicable crush on Dante, Emma (poorly cast Jennifer Schwalbach, Smith's wife) with an inexplicable engagement to Dante, and goody two shoes employee Elias (played rather bizarrely by Trevor Fehrman). Also, the previously defunct Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) make appearances as well. Also, several of Smiths celebrity friends, Wanda Sykes, Ben Affleck, and Jason Lee make uninspired cameos.
So, Dante is moving to Florida with his fiancé, Emma, to live happily ever after. The movie takes place on his last day at Moobys. Dante's co-workers are unhappy with his decision to leave for the sunshine state for their own various reasons. Becky, Dante's occasional lover, secretly pines for him. Randal, his long time co-worker, wants his best friend and foil to stay put in New Jersey. And the plot line that follows, is, in spirit, if not in story, a rougher version of JERSEY GIRL, with the same sappy and forced sentimentality, but with profanity and lots of sex jokes.
I could accept the contrived plot, if the film was funny, but it really isn't. What worked in CLERKS, was that it seemed fresh and original. Hearing, essentially, the same dialogue, ten years on, doesn't prompt laughter as much as it does boredom. Smith's characters have always been mouthpieces for either his sophomoric philosophy or his humor. But, as I've mentioned, they might work once or twice, but seven films in? It's the same thing over and over. His characters sound exactly like the writer, himself.
This is most evident during a argument between Randal and Elias about Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars. Randal, in defense of Star Wars, points out that LTR, is merely a film about walking, and proceeds to demonstrate. This is the same bit, Smith used once on the Tonight Show a awhile back. Interestingly, no one in Leno's audience really laughed at the bit, a harbinger of things to come for CLERKS II,I guess.
The acting is pretty poor and the ensemble cast comes across more as a group of friends getting together to play with some camera equipment they found then actual actors. The exception to this is Rosario Dawson and Jeff Anderson. Both do pretty well with the material they're given. As for everyone else, well, there wasn't much there. Trevor Fehrman plays Elias as an exaggeration and as such, the character comes across as retarded and almost non-functioning. Either Fehrman isn't a very good actor or Smith didn't give him much direction, probably a combination of both. As for Jennifer Schwalbach, did anyone mention to Smith that since she's already sleeping with the director, he didn't have to give her a part. Schwalbach isn't a good actress and comes across fairly wooden much in the same way that O'Halloran does, and was clearly miscast. She looks much older then the others, 40ish to their 30ish, anorexic and, with her bleached hair, completely out of place. Not only did I have trouble believing that she'd be interested in Dante, but also that she'd even live in New Jersey. The make out scene between Dante and Emma is one of the most unnatural love scenes I think I've ever scene. Awkward and unnatural for both the performers and audience.
It's easy to pick on Smith for his weight, or, make other personal attacks, but he may find the following the most insulting. Kevin Smith needs to either read some books on film-making or take some film classes, probably both. I'm certain they have some good screen writing classes out in Los Angeles. Whatever indie rebel status he once had with the quirky gem CLERKS, is now completely lost as he churns out one tiresome dud after another.
Watching CLERKS II is like watching a very poor public speaker give a presentation. Just as you'd cringe at every stutter and nervous rambling with a poor speaker, hoping they'll get better, the more I cringed watching CLERKS II and hoped it would get better. It never did. Relief came only when it was over.
The best way to sum up my experience with CLERKS II is with Becky's line upon entering the donkey scene, "It's disgusting and revolting yet I can't look away." Kind of how I felt throughout CLERKS II. However, in the future, as far as Kevin Smith's films are concerned, I intend to look away.