Clerks II

** 1/2
The original Clerks. was a landmark: a perfect delineation of a specific place and time that was also universal in its reach. We’ve all had McJobs at some point (low pay, no respect, no future). We all know what it’s like to be trampled on by bosses and customers and coworkers and girlfriends (frequently all in the same hour). And the only way many of us knew to get through the day was to babble about Star Wars and blow jobs. And then out comes Clerks. and there we are all on screen, standing for 16 straight hours in Dante’s boots. Some called the dialogue geeky, some called it obscene. I guess. That’s my generation. We’re all geeky. We’re all obscene. What do you expect of the first group of kids raised with VCRs and cable?

(Footnote: when I speak of “my generation” I tend to be speaking of people who are 5 to 10 years older than me. Somehow or other I identified with the grunge movement when I was 8 years old, and never quite recovered.)

Anyway, for whatever faults it had, Clerks. was still one of the important films of the 90s. Comforting to those of us who lived it; challenging for those to whom it was foreign.

Clerks II is nothing more or less than a good time at the movies. There are some very funny sequences, an impossibly charming performance from Rosario Dawson, and enough sap to choke a camel. The vulgarity comes off as posturing this time around, so it’s a good thing it’s funny. And I sort of wish there were more of it, because the film turns sentimental at the end, and suddenly Smith’s oft clever writing becomes a series of greeting card clichés.

Whatever emotional or societal resonance the flick might have is hampered by its loose, chaotic structure. While in the original, all the vignettes (no matter how disconnected) built to Dante’s meltdown, here many scenes get lost in the moment. There’s simply too much shit going on, and not enough actually happening. There’s also the issue of Dante. At 22, his inability to ever make up his mind was endearing. At 33, it’s a little pathetic. And without the original’s authenticity, Clerks II can’t even presume to speak for a subsection of society.

All that said, some scenes are quite funny (especially Wanda Sykes’s cameo), and there are a handful of poignant moments. Even as his writing ability regresses, Smith still has one thing going for him: he wants his audience to have a good time. It’s enough to recommend.

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