Sunday, August 13, 2006

Clerk's II: Back to the Counter

Last night, we saw CLERKS II , which debuted less than three weeks ago but already seems on its way out of theatres; locally, it's playing in the Beverly Center (where we saw it) on a postage-stamp screen, and in outlying places like Norwalk and Redondo Beach. That's no doubt the result of the onslaught of summer movies, and the art-house vibe of this and other Kevin Smith flicks.

Smith's last movie was JERSEY GIRL, his stab at doing a comedy/drama at least nominally aimed at an older audience; one that did not depend on the stable of characters who inhabited his previous movies. Sadly, JG did not do well in the box office; partly due to some creative failures, and partly due to the fallout from the other Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie, GIGLI. Smith has now returned to familiar territory, his first actual sequel (to his 1994 black and white debut film) to one of his films. Back are his Greek chorus, the innocent and scatological drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob, along with counter dwellers Randel (a force of chaos who never stops talking) and Dante (moderately more mature than Randel, but a spineless wonder who does whatever he's told by Randel or anyone else, albeit complaining all the way), and the usual cameos from Afflek and fellow Smith alumnus Jason Lee. Back are the fannish touches, the highlights of which are a meditation by geeky 19 year old Elias at the connections between The Transformers and Jesus, and a trash-talk face-off between Star Wars devotee Randel and a Lord of the Rings loving customer. The customer mocks Christian Hayden's wooden acting; Randel mocks the LOTR movies as consisting of endless walking. ("In the second one, even the trees were walking!"

In terms of entertainment, CLERKS II is somewhere between my favorite Smith movies (CHASING AMY and DOGMA) and the lesser ones in his Jersey cycle (MALLRATS and JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK). It's a mix of scatology and earnestness in which the journey is much more important than the destination: The message of the movie seems to be to stick to what you like and enjoy as you mature, rather than following others' paths. That seems to be what Smith has done with this movie. Still, I think the true masterpiece is in Smith's future. The guy's a terrific writer, with a wonderful insight into human nature, and a lack of the obligation to homage that has limited Quentin Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's work. I hope that Smith can retain the charm of his Jersey movies, and yet attempt more experiments with different kinds of movies. Perhaps then he'll realize his potential.

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