August 14, 2006

Clerks II

A funny, romantic, and outrageous romp, Clerks 2 is a lot of fun to watch, as a bigger-budget and higher-production-value "remake" of the grainy and cheap (but hilarious) original. Clerks 2 finds Dante and Randal working at a low-rent McDonald's-style fast-food joint "Mooby's", after 10 years at the Quick-Stop. Randal is as dyspeptic and misanthropic as ever, and Dante once again has two women after him. Dante's controlling fiancee Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach, director Kevin Smith's wife), only "loves" Dante because he will make a perfect doormat. Emma's parents are buying them a house in Florida, and installing Dante as a car wash manager. A long life under Emma's thumb awaits Dante, and he's going along because A) He's a pussy, and B) He thinks he's supposed to want to grow up and settle down. Meanwhile, Dante has fallen hard for his Mooby's manager, Becky (Rosario Dawson, and who wouldn't?) who apparently likes Dante for who he is.
Dante and Randal still go on their rambling debates, but Randal has some new adversaries-- the 19-year-old virgin Elias, who loves Jesus almost as much as he loves the Transformers and the Lord of the Rings. Actor Trevor Fehrman nearly steals all his scenes, in a Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles kind of way. Flaky and earnest, naive but not dumb, Elias sticks up for Optimus Prime, Jesus, and Frodo with equal passion, and without losing faith under a barrage of insults from Randal, who fears this will be his new best friend once Dante leaves town.
The relationship between Dante and Randal, and Dante and Becky, both feel strong and genuine, and the funny diatribes strike home. Randal's argument against Lord of the Rings, in favor of Star Wars, sounds promising, but falls very flat. I don't believe that Randal would hate LOTR, and I don't believe Kevin Smith does either, especially since Episodes 1, 2, and 3 devauled the Star Wars property in the last decade. Much stronger is Randal's continuing confusion of Anne Frank and Helen Keller, and his vigorous defense of a racial slur he insists isn't racial at all.
It's interesting to note what has changed between Kevin Smith's homegrown debut Clerks in 1994, and this 2006 sequel. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson's acting has improved, thank God. Smith has the budget for color film this time, showing off Dante's piercing green eyes (he's still an "ugly CHUD", but a CHUD with green eyes) and the garish Day-Glo color scheme of Mooby's. The soundtrack is much better- Talking Heads, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soul Asylum are featured well, and the dance sequence is set to "ABC" from the Jackson Five. Ah, yes, the dance sequence-- taking place roughly where the hockey game was in the first movie (both in time and place-- Dante and Becky dance on the roof), the dance sequence is fun and totally random.
Something which hasn't changed is the total lack of background action. I know Mooby's is supposed to be a lousy restaurant, but you hardly ever see anyone in the restaurant-- you only see extras when they are part of the plot. Would it be so hard to stage some of the behind-the-counter action with the dining area in the background, and hire some extras to add realism? I suspect Smith shot this movie in a vacant Burger King, and unfortunately, it looks like the main cast is totally alone in there until suddenly, diners pop up. Perhaps this is a symptom of a larger problem- Smith has never known where to put a camera. You're not supposed to be thinking about camera position while watching a movie, but even in the simplest two-person dialog scenes, I found myself wondering why he shot it like that. David Klein has been the Director of Photography on Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and fifteen movies and TV shows I've never heard of. I appreciate Smith's loyalty to his friends, but I suspect he is valuing friendship over talent.
Certainly an improvement over the original, if slightly less funny. A minus. (Somerville Theater)