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Monday, July 24, 2006

Clerks II

Back in 1994, when the Essex Cinemas was just a cow pasture, a quirky little man named Kevin Smith maxed out all of his credit cards to make a small black & white independent film about a couple of convenience store clerks who did little other than spend their days talking about what twenty-somethings liked to talk about ~ sex, movies, sex, drugs, music, hockey, sex, and more sex. For less than $28,000 Smith captured a day in what was essentially his life. He worked as a clerk in the actual Quick Stop used in the movie, and his life looked like it was going nowhere.

Twelve years later, Smith has a string of films to his credit and the pasture has now become home to my favorite movie palace, the Essex Cinemas, where a long delayed sequel to Smith’s first film has just debuted. Clerks II picks up a decade after the original, just as the Quick Stop is seen burning to the ground. So begins a year of change for clerks Dante and Randal.

Randal (Jeff Anderson; Now You Know) and Dante (Brian O’Halloran; Drop Dead Roses) end up leaving a decade of service behind the counter at the convenience store for the challenging new world of fast food, now serving customers at Mooby’s, a burger chain a few notches below anything with golden arches. It seems that the years haven’t changed the guys much. They are still irreverent and offensive, still not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, spending their days in idle ramblings about useless subjects like ‘Is the Star Wars trilogy the only real true trilogy or does that honor belong to The Lord of the Rings?’ and ‘Is “porch monkey” a racial slur or can anybody hang out on a porch?’ These are the deep conversations that the boys have, not far removed from the Return of the Jedi talks that peppered the first Clerks. The only thing keeping their days exciting is the string of occasional customers who wander in, played by cameo stars Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Wanda Sykes.

This time around though, as flaky as Randal and Dante seem to still be after all these years, they
are facing some adult problems. For Dante, the most pressing one is Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith; Jersey Girl), the ice queen he is engaged to mostly because her father promises them a secure life, a paid-for home, and Dante a job managing a car wash in Florida. His reticence to move and surrender his life to the pushy and domineering Emma is made more complicated by his realization that he has fallen in love with his boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson; Rent). Becky is a bright light in the middle of the dullness of the guys’ days, but she is reticent to interfere in Dante’s plans to marry Emma despite her own secret feelings for him.

For those who wonder, the team of Jay and Silent Bob, who have crossed over from the first Clerks into several other Smith films, including Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma, before
finally getting their own feature in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back have also moved with the crew and have taken up their drug dealing activities outside of Mooby’s now that the Quick Stop is defunct. These two are by far the funniest and most profane of the characters in the film, and while they don’t really interact with the rest of the cast but appear in snippets between the main action they always are up to something outrageous. Look for Jay’s imitation of The Silence of the Lambs serial killer Jamie Gumb as he does Gumb’s infamous “mangina” dance out in the parking lot of Mooby’s for no particular reason. It is topped only by the film’s ultimate finale which features a remarkably staged “cross species erotica” show that involves a donkey being orally and anally pleasured by a burly man in a mask, all in the lobby of the fast food restaurant. Yum. It’s enough to make a person gag (well, I mean more than the man in the mask), and I guarantee you I’ll NEVER ask for the “secret sauce” in one of these places again.

Yes, Clerks II is downright gross, perverse, shocking, embarrassing, and tacky. It’s also riotously funny because it says a lot of things people have always thought about but
never had the courage to say out loud because we all just knew they’d sound ridiculous if anybody did. Well, guess what? They do, and it’s funnier than you can imagine hearing them said by someone else. This is a definite “check-me-out" at the Essex Cinemas.

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