Twelve years ago, Clerks proved exactly what a quality script, brilliant characters and decent acting and directing could give to a movie – i.e. everything it needed. Starting from a budget of around just $27,000, it snowballed its way from an unheard of Sundance entry to indie cult classic, gaining fame for its irreverent humour and prodigous swearing.
Kevin Smith’s career was born, and you’ll probably know what happened next. Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma followed – the latter giving Smith a shot at directing Rickman and a budget far in excess of what he started with, and possibly far in excess of what he needed. It was Smith’s breakthrough. Or it should have been.
Decline has followed. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back found little support from critics, and many are mercifully unaware of the $35 million Affleck vehicle Jersey Girl, which sunk without a trace a couple of years ago. Finally, Smith has returned out of something approaching desperation to the cast and storyline that started it all off.
Ten years on, very little has changed for Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson). Their jobs in the Quick Stop mall abandoned when it burnt down, they have moved not very far at all to Mooby’s fast food joint, and quickly settled back into a familiar rut.
They’re still making fun of customers, still slacking off work, and still enjoying not doing very much. But in their mid-30s rather than mid-20s, can their low maintenance lifestyle really be good enough any more? Or will Dante finally make something of himself – and either shit or get off the pot?
Which, in case you haven’t being paying attention, was the plot of Clerks. Just like his characters, Smith finds himself stuck in the same old rut, unable to take enjoyment in something that was once so new and exciting.
The humour is still as vulgar, but not as funny, sharp wit being replaced by low grade homophobia and frat boy comedy. Jay and Silent Bob, once the ultimate in side characters, are completely worn out, unhappily repeating their stock phrases. Additions to the New Jersey cast, principally Dante’s misconceived new love interest Rosario Dawson, are absurdly one dimensional and tiredly tacked on. It’s all a little depressing.
Clerks 2 isn’t a terrible movie. It picks up a little as it goes on, finding time for a few well placed movie references and, despite their tiredness, it’s hard not to retain a bit of a soft spot for some of the characters. But it still has to go down as another disappointment for what must be a dwindling number of fans. Probably not Smith’s last; but that time may not be far away.