Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Clerks 2 (2006)

As Dante is about to find out again, working life is hell...

In the entire history of great movies, one rule of thumb exists: the sequel is always inferior to the original great movie. The only exception? Godfather Part II - Francis Ford Coppola's film is in fact the only sequel to make it into the AFI top 100 films list. This is something that we need to keep in mind when we think about Clerks II. The original Clerks in 1994 launched Kevin Smith's career as a director, and remains his best work to date (with the possible exception of Dogma). The movie may have been about a day in the almost-meaningless life of a couple of 20somethings working at a record store, but it captured the exasperation and nihilism of many a GenXer stuck in mind-numbing, soul-destroying dead-end jobs during the economic downturn, with virtually no avenue for escape. The resulting comedy ensues only because there are only so many ways overeducated (Randall Graves gets the best lines) and frustrated (Dante Hickes shares the profanity-ridden dialogue with his fellow actors) underachievers who have all but given up on the rat race can entertain themselves. The result: an instant classic that not only made Kevin Smith US cinema's equivalent of Douglas Copeland, but also created some of the most profane and perverse dialogue and scenarios ever seen on screen at that time.

Sure, Adam Sandler and the makers of the Scary Movies have tried to outdo Smith in tasteless jokes, but what they do not get and have never been able to replicate is the width and depth of social satire and commentary that accompanied the jokes in Clerks, or even the sense of dark brooding malaise behind every genuinely funny gag. As a member of the office comedy, Kevin Smith's Clerks took the "working life is hell" motiff, adapted it to the real life experiences of a new generation, dripping midnight paint into the genre with the bleakness of the mid-90s economy and at the same time sharpening to a knife's edge the keeness of the satire. Now, what on earth could Kevin Smith do with a direct sequel to Clerks? How on earth would he avoid making a sequel that would be a pale shadow, a weak imitation of the groundbreaking original?

Let me just say that it certainly is possible for any audience to enjoy Clerks 2 without even watching Clerks as its jokes and dialogue are as profoundly perverse and profane as the original's, but what makes Clerks 2 a worthy sequel is how it really relates to the original movie. I'm not really refering to the references and visual parodies to the original movie (although they are there), but to what Kevin Smith has done to the original premise. "Reprisal" would definitely be wrong, and a mere "development" would be an understatement. It's more like Kevin Smith has discovered a whole new dimension to Clerk's comic premise: take the same 2 dead-end workers from 1994, imagine that despite the roaring nineties, fate has conspired to keep their lives in the same job and the same store from Clerks, with the duo dully, sullenly, accepting that fate yet half-hearted hoping for the chance to escape.

And of course, Clerks 2 of course chronicles a day in the lives of Dante and Randall, but what a difference 12 years make. Once more, as they say, with feeling - and Clerks 2 is even bleaker, edgier, and angrier than its predecessor, while being more resigned at the same time. Of course, being 12 years older, the characters are tinged with a sense of futility and desperation... Here, fate plays a joke on the duo: Randall may just have gotten his once-in-a-lifetime chance out of a life of mediocrity with his marriage to a hyper-motivated girlfriend (who obviously was the one who made the marital decision), but can he survive his final day at work? Clerks 2 moves the action from the convenience store to a fictional fast food restaurant, but Kevin Smith's joke is that work is hell, wherever you go, and the only thing to look forward is the collective hilarity and pranks you play on your colleagues and friends.

Kevin Smith has clearly outdone himself with Clerks 2. The satire is even more biting, the sense of despair deeper (and mind you, Clerks was an allegory of Dante's Inferno), and the jokes way funnier. There's a frightful amount of pop culture jokes in them, with pointed comments at Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and even the Transformers, as well as organised religion, Silence of the Lambs, and more. Either way you will laugh. And either way, you will weep. And either way, you will shudder to think what Kevin Smith can conjure up if he decides to make Clerks 3 in 10 or 12 years' time.

First published at incinemas on 1 February 2007

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