Reopening shop

“Clerks II”


Written and directed by Kevin Smith

Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith

Opens July 21, 2006

Rated R/98 minutes

Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Lesson One: If Kevin Smith wants a donkey show, Kevin Smith gets a donkey show.

Lesson Two: If Kevin Smith wants a slushee made in a toilet bowl, Kevin Smith gets a slushee made in a toilet bowl.

Lesson Three: If Kevin Smith wants to reintroduce viewers to the lives of two pathetically likeable service-industry foul-mouths in “Clerks II,” then?you get the point.

Why does Kevin Smith get whatever he wants?

Simple: Kevin Smith is God of his own multiverse.

Beginning with his first venture-the original “Clerks”-Smith has cultivated a reality all his own, filled with off-kilter mythology (“She did what to a dead guy in the bathroom!?”), a rotating roster of characters and clumsy, intertwining storylines.

Since creating a sympathetic faux-reality is 50 percent of the cinematic battle, Smith comes to the director’s chair with something of an advantage: All he has to do is not stray too far from his source text (like he did in the terrible “Jersey Girl”), and he’s got a good chance of crafting another enjoyable indie romp (as he does successfully in “Clerks II”).

Picking up more than a decade after the first “Clerks” left off, Smith’s sequel puts audiences right back into the back-and-forth, life-as-conversation world of Dante and Randall, the disarmingly smarmy convenience store employees. It also picks up Smith’s tendency to savagely parody all accepted contemporary cultural mores, folkways and institutions in bitingly effective style.

Jay and Silent Bob, the drug-dealing dynamic duo, find God in a “program, with, uh, steps.” They promptly become even more of a menace to society than ever before. Dante caves in to the conventional conception of happiness (and religiosity) by getting engaged to a woman who may or may not be the Antichrist. It goes further to probe the bounds of relationship sanctions as it presents Dante and Randall as slightly more than buds, illustrating how devoted friendships are just like devoted romances-complete with jail cell blowouts and parking lot reconciliations.

Ultimately, “Clerks 2” reminds us that no matter how much we want to believe that we don’t see ourselves in those dudes behind the counter, the fact remains that the day-to-day routine is largely the same in all walks of life. We bicker, we moan, we fling cheap and juvenile insults at anyone within earshot.

The plot, though solid, is borderline irrelevant to the enjoyment of “Clerks II.” In a nutshell, Dante and Randall work at a burger shack because the convenience store burned down, and Dante is getting married. He’s also moving to Florida. There is some friend-to-friend jealousy, some infidelity, some bestiality?you know, whatever.

Point is, whatever happens in “Clerks II” happens as background noise for the actual conversation of the film. The story events are just shallow justifications for the conveyance of a noteworthy, low-fi charm (delivered less by way of visual grit and more by way of superior story and dialogue).

All of this works to explain why “Clerks II,” and most of Smith’s films, succeed-despite the clich categories they get lumped into, these films always, when done right, exist as exercises in character and sympathy. We forgive the smaller trespasses (namely, the often hackneyed humor) for the sake of the larger favors (namely, the way Smith helps us fall in love with the quotidian).

At the same time, Smith’s characterization (both as applied to his characters as well as his boyish cinematic universe) manages to apply a sense of grandeur to all things pedestrian in ways that big-budget Hollywood movies never can. Smith makes us care about what he’s got to say because he makes us care about how he’s saying it-and in a movie business more concerned with explosions than empathy, this is something special.