Geek of the Day
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I used to churn 'em out like a short-order cook with cheeseburgers, but real life got in the way some time ago and I wound up finding less time in which to write them. Along the way, my inspiration sort of fizzled as well. But if there's anything that can inspire me to crank out some words and stick them in cyberspace, it's a Kevin Smith movie.
I have a long history with Kev. His first film, Clerks, came out right around the time that I was not only getting really big into independent film, but also when I was just starting my tenure working in an independent video store. Needless to say, it quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. I was still working there during the releases of Mallrats and Chasing Amy, the other two entries into the "Jersey Trilogy", and my love for Smith did not wane.
But kind of like that Saturday Night Live sketch that just doesn't know when the joke quits being funny, Kevin kept it up. Although I found myself laughing at many of the jokes in Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, I walked out of both feeling highly dissatisfied. I wasn't expecting much from Jersey Girl, and yet still managed to be disappointed. So when I heard Clerks 2 was actually going to happen for real (after two stalls on its genesis, one of them turning into J&SBSB), I couldn't help but be a little skeptical.
But, like always, I went to see his movie opening weekend. And much like I felt with many other of his later films, I walked out of the theater with a handful of complaints. I'll get to that in a moment. First, I'll give you your obligatory story breakdown.
It's been more than a decade since Dante Hicks first said "I'm not even supposed to be here today", but he still jockeys a register at the Quik Stop. One morning when he arrives for work, he finds the place engulfed in flames. Out of a job for the first time in ages, he and heterosexual life partner Randal Graves get a job at Mooby's, a fast-food joint in the same town. We chronicle the last day of Dante's employment at Mooby's, as he gears up to drive down to Florida with his fiancee Emma to get married and start a new life.
We meet two of the clerks' coworkers at Mooby's on this day: store manager Becky, who is only doing this job because of an illness in her family; and fry cook Elias, a mildly-retarded Jesus freak who obsesses over Lord of the Rings and The Transformers. Fortunately, Mooby's does very little business, so four employees seem to be enough to handle an entire day's work. Dante still finds time to make out with Emma on the playground while Randal hits on underage girls. And of course, the ever-familiar drug dealing duo of Jay and Silent Bob, recently released from rehab and finding God, show up to peddle their wares outside the restaurant.
Dante's close relationship with Becky is revealed to be a little less innocent than it appears at first glance, which is creating a conundrum for Dante. Now, I had a lot of trouble believing that Dante had not only been with a dozen women in the original Clerks, but that two women were actually vying for his attention in said film. I don't find it any easier to believe that he's still got this magical ability with the ladies now that he's twelve years older, a little pudgier, and still working for minumum wage.
Many of the situations in the film had me laughing. Some of them pretty hard. But again, Smith does what he has been doing for a while now, and that's trying to be someone he's not. Smith's strengths do get a workout for about half the film, but then he tries to do things he's not so good at. You know, like directing. For example, there's a scene where Dante just gets the news that Becky is pregnant, and frantically pulls Randal aside to tell him. Perhaps not having enough confidence in the writing being able to convey the necessary emotion, Kevin decides to rapidly swoop the camera around the two characters. Not only is this effect ridiculously cliched, but several of the people in my party, myself included, found themselves feeling motion sickness as a result of it.
Let's not forget the terrible way Smith uses music. Dante needs some advice on dancing at his wedding, so Becky takes him up on the roof of Mooby's (a nod to the first movie which doesn't work nearly as well as Smith wants it to) to teach him to cut a rug. Not only does the scene use a trite, overplayed song in the Jackson Five's "ABC" (might as well have just tossed in "Walking on Sunshine" and gotten it over with), but the subsequent "grooving to the music" cuts with the other patrons and employees is taken directly from a filmmaking 101 class. It tries to redeem itself with a Bollywood-esque dance number at the end, but it doesn't do the job of saving the scene.
The rest of the music in the film is pretty trite as well, but nothing is as cringe-worthy as the point where Randal's words trail off right into the opening percussion from the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979", and I literally yelled out "montage!" from my seat in the theater. Sure enough, a shitty musical montage follows, and even culminates into Smith gratuitously sticking his pudgy, toothless daughter into a scene to ensure that Dante's epiphany is completed. Not only does the song not fit into the film in any way, but it's one of about a half-dozen other songs that are shoved over filmed sequences in lieu of actually telling a story. The Butch and Sundance tribute was obvious, but the scene with the Go-Karts just really fails on almost all levels too. The finale uses a Soul Asylum song, I guess to try and keep some unity with the first film, but they picked that lousy song from the "My So Called Life" soundtrack that Weird Al did one of his lesser parodies of. Personally, I would have just suggested using "Can't Even Tell" again. The only song that I really think worked was the opening's "(Nothing but) Flowers", from the Talking Heads.
Perhaps the biggest complaint here is the fact that Smith throws in contrived romantic angles that not only do not work, but don't even belong in the film. I mentioned that I don't buy Dante as the quintessential stud muffin he seems to be in the Clerks films, but this goes far beyond that. Sure, there is zero chemistry between Dante and Emma, played by Smith's wife Jennifer Schwallbach (looking a lot like the coked-out Tawny Kitaen that appeared on this year's "The Surreal Life"), but we're not supposed to believe that they belong together, so that's forgivable. My complaint is that the evolution from Becky's 30 years of thinking monogamy is silly to throwing herself at Dante's feet takes only a few hours of real-life time, and more importantly, shouldn't have even been a catalyst to keep Dante around. The real love story here should be the friendship between Dante and Randal, and while that does come into play in a scene from a jail cell later in the film, it should have been the only thing that led to Dante's ditching of Emma. It doesn't help that both of the female characters that Dante loves both fall victim to the KevinSmithification of women -- they're both written as filthy-mouthed sluts.
And while I do admit to finding a lot of Clerks 2 funny, I started realizing what was missing at about the halfway mark. Sure, the geeky dialogue between the characters was there, and certain running jokes (Randal's idea of "taking back" a particular racial slur being the most memorable) work. But the cavalcade of quirky customers just wasn't there. We got a few celebrity cameos (Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Wanda Sykes, and that guy from "Alias" who looks like he should be a midget but isn't) but nothing on the level of the Chewlie's Gum representative or the old pervert who needs to use the bathroom or even the Navy Seals guy. Clerks 2 is an okay sequel, but it's missing a lot of the charm that made the original work.
Even the signature characters of Jay and Silent Bob aren't even interesting anymore. So they found God, right? Well, that lasts for all of one scene. Other than that, they do the same shit we've seen them do in five movies previously. Jay doing the "Goodbye Horses" dance from Silence of the Lambs is good for a chuckle, but it would have been nice for them to omit any hint of it from the trailers. But my biggest beef lies with the fact that I remember when films used to build to Silent Bob's moment of wisdom. In all three Jersey Trilogy films (as well as Dogma), Bob's one line (or one monologue, as in Amy) is memorable. In J&SBSB, silence had become a gimmick and the one line Bob spoke was stupid. In this one, it's just forgettable. It's a less-memorable version of the Chasing Amy speech, but it doesn't do anything for Dante's situation -- Randal takes care of that.
All this said, this was a step up for Smith. Better than Jersey Girl, of course, but also better than Dogma and J&SBSB. Perhaps I'm just getting used to Smith doing things that don't work again and again that they just don't faze me as much. Still, I wouldn't call Clerks 2 a good film, or even one that will stand up to the test of time like earlier works in Smith's portfolio. It's just kind of there. It doesn't break any new ground and seems pretty tame compared to his other stuff. Even the Donkey Show scene, which was given a bit of hype when ABC reviewer Joel Siegel walked out of a screening at its mere mention, was pretty tame.
Oh, and fuck that guy. Yeah, I've always thought Siegel was a douchebag -- a blatant shill for Disney, and a guy whose sole purpose in life is to write puns to get quoted in movie trailers -- but he really did it when he walked out on Clerks 2 (which just so happens to be one of the first major Weinstein releases post-Disney, but I swear that's just a coincidence) because not only did he create artificial box office hype and basically gave Smith a free ride to be as pious as he wants about criticism of his film, but also made sure that every other reviewer in the mainstream media would give this film a more glowing review than it deserves, because nobody else wants to be associated with that guy.
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