CLERKS 2 isn’t just everything a perfect sequel should be, it’s everything a superb film should be, too. Right on top of the zeitgeist, and fiendishly clever in it commentary on it, it skewers political correctness within a profane framework that unwaveringly champions middle class values with an infectious elan.
It picks up with the eponymous clerks, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) exactly where we left them in the original over a decade ago, at the Quick Stop. In a slick prologue done in the original’s black-and-white, Dante arrives one morning to open for business only to find his exit from entropy blazing before him. Literally and in full color. That would be the fire engulfing the convenience store and the video rental place next door, leaving Dante, introspective and full of free-floating longings, pondering, still, what to do with his life, and Randal, babbling strong opinions backed up by dubious facts, pondering where he will be taking chicks for sex when his mother’s home. Cut to a year later and one fateful day in both their lives. They’re still clerking, but at Mooby’s, a bovine-themed fast-food chain whose garish colors and delicacies such as the Cow Tipper makes one long for the black-and-white days of the Quick Stop. It’s Dante’s last day before moving to Florida with velvet steamroller Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach), his dream woman, there to marry, manage a car wash, and settle down to a life of being told what to do by his better half. Randal is coping with his feelings of abandonment by taunting the third member of the sales staff, Elias (twitchy but earnest puppy Trevor Fehrman) even more than usual about his born-again Christian state, and his abiding affection for Go-Bots and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Oh, and there’s that donkey show, or rather, inter-species erotica, he’s planning as Dante’s going away present.
It would all be perfect, if it weren’t for Becky (Rosario Dawson). She’s the gorgeous, funny, and enticing, if anti-romantic, fill-in manager at Mooby’s (two years and counting), who may or may not have a thing for Dante, but is definitely questioning him about what it is he sees in both Emma and that life they have planned together. They’re questions to which Dante has all the answers, but not terribly enthusiastic ones.
Writer, director, editor, co-star Kevin Smith, who with Jason Mewes returns here as the quiet half of Jay and Silent Bob, is as fearless as he is sharp and fiendishly funny. He reworks several of the tropes from the original film, there is a sequence on a rooftop, without remaking it. The characters may be lodged in stasis, but their story is new and leads to places both piquant and, after several wake-up calls sent by a universe that must be infinitely patient with our boys, entirely logical. Further, in dissecting the difference between love and marriage, happiness and settling, and Star Wars versus all things Hobbit, it is in the very act of trying to offend that he makes his points. When Randal, who is as white bread as it is possible to be, attempts to take back the term “porch monkey” the way the gay community took back the word “queer”, it makes for an incisive and thought-provoking consideration of the power that we allow words to have over us that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of Lenny Bruce. That it, like the rest of the film, revels in an unabashed giddiness makes it all the more satisfying.
CLERKS 2 is to mere irreverence what the Hope Diamond is to cubic zirconium, and twice at brilliant. It is also, against all reason and that donkey show, one of the most romantic films ever made. Go figure.