At the end of the credits of Clerks II, (an impressive list of folks that's infinitely longer than the original's), Kevin Smith includes a catalogue of thank-yous directed toward all the actors, friends, and family that made the project possible. One of these is directed to Smith's previous film, the flop Jersey Girl: "For taking it so hard in the ass and never complaining."
This strange mix of crudity and sentimentality runs throughout the film. Certainly, Clerks II is just as offensive, if not more, than the original. The sequel jumps into the pool of racism, sexism, bestiality, homophobia (you name it, the flick's got it) with both feet, while wearing a very small speedo. It's determined to flaunt its assets. And to violate your virginal ears. (Ew.)
So, before we go more in depth on this, here's the scoop. Clerks II picks up with career slackers Dante, Randall, Jay, and Silent Bob some twelve years after the events of the first Clerks, which was filmed in 1994. Dante and Randal now work at the fast food joint Mooby's (which may be familiar from Dogma to any Kevin Smith fans). Things are looking up for Dante. By all appearances, he's going to start a new, real, grownup life. However, there are complications. Randal doesn't want him to leave, and there's another girl in the picture: Dante's boss at Mooby's, Becky (played by Rosario Dawson).
Smith has consciously patterned Clerks II on the first film: both plots are propelled by a love triangle. Dante must choose between two girls: one good for him, one bad. In both, Randal plays a key role in bringing that triangle to a crisis. Both films feature a fine levied against Dante by the powers that be. Both films have a scene on the roof of the workplace. Both also have Dante and Randal randomly leave work to do something else. Not to mention Jay and Silent Bob dance scenes. (Clerks II even has a musical number!)
Seeing Jay duplicate Buffalo Bill's gender transformation/ dance scene from Silence of the Lambs was a highlight for me. I couldn't believe it, and I couldn't stop laughing.
The film also contains plenty of subtle and not so subtle touches for the nerd in all of us. First, there are various discussions on the relative merits of such cultural touchstones as The Transformers, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings. This is definitely a film written for the generation coming of age in the 70s and 80s. There're also nods to the avid Kevin Smith fan -- the ads for "Nails" Cigarettes (which feature a lung punctured by nails), referencing the Smoking Nazi from the first Clerks. And there're clever little things: the tags on the Mooby's dolls read "FU." Take note, however: there is no Easter Egg at the end. Though you could stick around to read Smith's list of "thank yous," which are amusing.
My only real complaint about this movie is that Brian O'Halloran still can't act very well. The rest of the cast pretty much does their thing, and they're fine, but when you put Brian O'Halloran next to Rosario Dawson, it's a bit painful. That said, his stiff awkwardness is somewhat appropriate for his character, so you can forgive him a bit. And Kevin Smith found the highly funny Trevor Fehrman to play the supporting character Elias, so you can also distract yourself from Brian O'Halloran.
But through all the donkey jokes and the racist lines and the unending discussions of sexual mechanics, this film carries a torch for traditional values: true friendship, romantic love, karma. The film, for all intents and purposes, has a quite happy ending; everyone gets their pot of gold.
And, I think, that's what made the film extremely satisfying and extremely funny, for me, at least. Unrelenting crudity tends to get both uncomfortable and boring. But when you pair that incredible crudity with a nice love story and genuine friendship and happy endings and sparkly unicorns, then the crudity becomes infinitely funnier. You don't need to dwell on the discomfort. All is well in the universe: people can be offensive and foul-mouthed, but they can also ultimately have their heart in the right place. As Jay puts it: "Don't knock the f**kin' Bible, man."
I don't want to suggest that Clerks II is unique in this. Kevin Smith's movies almost always pair dirt with a rather religious reverence for friendship and love. I think it's one reason his films are so popular. Clerks II manages this balance exceptionally well.
Our thanks to Kevin Smith for another hilarious, entertaining film. I sincerely doubt that Clerks II will be taking it anywhere other than where God intended: the box office.