Let's rewind to the year 1994. If anyone had told you that Kevin Smith's breakout hit, Clerks, would be granted a sequel twelve years later---and on top of that, it'd be a romantic comedy---what would you have thought? Looking back at Smith's résumé, though, it almost seems all too obvious: we saw hints at his softer side during Chasing Amy and even Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, not to mention the more down-to-earth Jersey Girl. Smith also dropped hints about a sequel during the past few years, making the tentative release date official in the Clerks 10th Anniversary Edition booklet. So, as surprising as this film's existence is, we still saw it coming.
Either way, some fans expected the worst: this would, after all, be the first genuine sequel in the View Askewniverse, and we all know how most sequels turn out. Though many of Smith's characters found their way into other movies---Jay and Silent Bob, in particular---they all seemed self-contained, even if none could quite match the wit and spontaneity of the black and white film that started it all. Imagine our surprise when Smith's increasingly evident soft side, combined with the razor-sharp dialogue that he's always been capable of, meshed pretty darn well in the entertaining Clerks II (2006). Though the sudden outbursts of romance are sometimes unexpected (including a colorful rooftop dance number featuring The Jackson 5's "ABC"), they don't come across as heavy-handed and cloying; otherwise, the heart of the film would fall flat.
Our story begins and ends almost full circle, starting with an unexpected accident at the all-too-familiar Quick Stop: due to the negligence of Randal (Jeff Anderson), the store is burnt to a colorful crisp. Fast-forward to a year later. He and Dante (Brian O'Halloran) are now minimum wage slaves at the local Mooby's, a cow-themed fast food chain in the style of McDonald's and Burger King ("Bovine Size It!"). Unfortunately, Dante won't be around much longer, as he's planning to move to Florida with his controlling fiancée, Emma (Jennifer Schwalback). The plot thickens, of course, as the reluctant groom-to-be gradually falls for Mooby's manager Becky (Rosario Dawson, below right), continuing the Clerks theme of "Dante gets two girls, Randal gets none". What's a charismatic smart-mouth to do?
Of course, plenty of familiar faces return to smooth things over a bit. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, above left) are now drug-free, a result of Mewes' hard-won victory over drugs which was documented on Smith's weblog. They still sell weed, of course, but they just don't inhale; in other words, their status as frequent loiterers at Mooby's is cemented for the film's duration. The episodic format of Clerks II lends itself to frequent guest spots, including Jason Dowds (Jason Lee), a high school rival who's now an Internet millionaire; Wanda Sykes and Earthquake as a married couple; and Phantoms star Ben Affleck as "Gawking Guy". Aside from Dawson, there's a few new faces on board as well, including Trevor Fehrman as Elias, a naïve young worker who gets to be "mentored" by Randal.
Of course, it wouldn't be a View Askew movie without non-stop vulgarity and over-the-top humor (except for Jersey Girl, of course), and Clerks II has got it in spades. From the frequent sex-related jokes and off-color comments to the infamous "Donkey Show", it's extremely surprising that the MPAA let this raunchy theatrical cut slide by with an R rating. For DVD fans, at least we won't have to deal with the all-too-common "Director's Cut" double-dip. Probably.
All things considered, though, the closing moments of Clerks II show that Smith and the characters he's created have all grown up a bit. The full-circle ending, complete with black and white transitions, is a clever and thoughtful tip of the hat to the original; in fact, it's this respect for the original that really elevates the film from a simple afterthought to a decent stand-alone comedy in its own right. It'll never top the original, but it's certainly a film that View Askew veterans should enjoy from start to finish. The DVD presentation by The Weinstein Company supports the main feature well, boasting a decent technical presentation and plenty of extras. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, Clerks II looks very good on DVD; unfortunately, this "check disc" displays a copyright watermark over the image every five minutes or so. Aside from that, the slightly grainy but pleasing transfer gets the job done: colors are generally muted, with the exception of the overly-saturated dance sequence. Image detail and black levels are solid from start to finish, while digital problems (edge enhancement, etc.) didn't seem to be an issue at all. The overall video rating has been slightly penalized for the tacky watermark (hint, hint), but this problem certainly won't affect the offical street release.
The audio mix doesn't seem to raise any problems, as Clerks II is presented in a fine-sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. The stylized dialogue is clear---but not clean, obviously---while the occasional music cues open up the rear channels on several occasions. English captions and Spanish subtitles are provided during the main feature and extras.
The three participants keep things entertaining during the first commentary, explaining a few technical tidbits along the way and comparing the production experience to that of the original. The cast session, on the other hand, is a bit closer to the typical View Askew style, featuring plenty of interplay between the participants and extra-strength goofing off. It's an enjoyable track as expected, though the lack of Rosario Dawson is unfortunate. The third commentary is apparently the first of its kind; apparently, it was slated to be a downloadable file that fans could listen to on their mp3 players in the theater, but the plan was scrapped. It's an interesting track with plenty of insight and anecdotes, especially between Smith and Anderson. On a related note, we also get an Introduction to the Film with Smith and Mosier (4:38).
The first disc continues with a selection of Deleted Scenes with an optional introduction by Smith and Mosier (25 clips, 35:31 total), including additional shenanigans with Jay and Silent Bob (one omits the William Garvey song "Goodbye Horses" , which would've apparently cost $18,000 to include), a bit more time in the car with Dante and Randal, additional scenes in the prison and a funny improv sequence with Wanda Sykes and Earthquake. Overall, this is a funny batch of clips that fans should really enjoy; all are presented in finished form and include text introductions but no index.
Closing out this disc is the short featurette "A Closer Look at Interspecies Erotica" (8:58), an extended conversation with actor Zak "The Sexy Stud" Knutson about how the infamous "Donkey Show" sequence came to fruition. It's mostly a tongue-in-cheek affair, but it's also got a few interesting behind-the-scenes clips that make it worth watching.
Disc 2 is devoted entirely to bonus features, the centerpiece of which is "Back to the Well: The Making of Clerks II" (with optional introduction by Smith and Mosier, 1:26:34 total). Presented in the same down-to-earth style as past View Askew documentaries like "The Snowball Effect", this feature-length piece (above left) features plenty of casual interviews with the cast and crew. Also included is footage from the film's Hollywood premiere, an earlier View Askew fan-only screening and a trip to the Cannes Film Festival. At the heart of "Back to the Well", though, is the candid nature in which the film's beginnings and execution are discussed. Overall, it's probably the best extra on this 2-disc set.
Not to be outdone is a highly entertaining Blooper Reel (with optional introduction by Smith and Mosier, 27:38 total), which stars off a bit slow but contains plenty of great moments all around. On a completely unrelated note, also included here is a promotional Sountrack Spot for the film (0:48).
Closing out the extras is a selection of ten Video Production Diaries entitled "Train Wreck" (with optional introduction by Smith and Mosier, 51:01 total), including "Revenge of the Mullet", "Day One", "Meet the Crew with Jason Mewes", "The Tongue Song", "Lights...Camera...Tongue!", "The Good, the Bad and the Man", "The 8-Minute Standing O", "Elements and Layers", "Love the Camera" and "Call 911". With plenty of appearances by the cast and crew (and even Quentin Tarantino), a brief look at the film's visual effects, footage from a promotional photo shoot, a nice little practical joke and plenty of Jason Mewes doing his thing, there's a nice area of ground covered in a short amount of time. As a companion piece to "Back to the Well", this ten-part series of featurettes is worth digging through, but it's a shame more couldn't have been included (according to a reliable source, 83 istallments of "Train Wreck" were created in all).
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and non-anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios. While the lack of 16x9 enhancement for these extras takes the presentation down a notch, at least they include optional English subtitles.
We didn't think it would've happened ten years ago, but Clerks II has come to pass; even more surprising, though, is that it's an entertaining sequel in its own right. With plenty of winks and nods to past Smith productions---including the original Clerks, of course---only View Askew veterans need apply, but that's expected at this point. The DVD presentation by The Weinstein Company pairs the main feature with a solid technical presentation and a fun assortment of laid-back bonus material. All things considered, it's a solid 2-disc set that Smith disciples should enjoy. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.