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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Clerks II (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Clerks II (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
The Weinstein Company // R // January 16, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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I think I'm supposed to kick this review off with a jab at Jersey Girl and say something about how in the wake of that mess, Kevin Smith went back to the well and dusted Jay and Silent Bob off for the sixth time. Oh, and I'm obligated to cleverly squeeze "slacker" in at least once, hyphenating it with something or making up some non-existent term like "slacker verite".

At least, that's how all the other armchair movie reviewers opened their reviews of Clerks II. Hell, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier make some of those same jokes in the intros they taped for the DVD, and it's one of the major topics in the feature-length making-of doc which happens to be titled Back to the Well. ...but even with that whole tongue-in-cheek "I know, I know..." from Kevin Smith, Clerks II isn't a lazy, grab-for-cash retread of more of the same. I'd go so far as to say that this is the most wildly entertaining thing Smith has ever done, mixing the raunchy, pop culture-peppered dialogue of Clerks with the emotional wallop of Chasing Amy under the experienced eyes of a filmmaker on movie number seven. If Clerks II is Smith closing the book on the Askewniverse, I can't think of a better way to cap off the series.

The movie opens with Quick Stop -- where Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) had spent the past decade clerkin' it up for minimum wage -- engulfed in flames. Keeping their feet on the ground and reaching for the...well, not the stars so much, Clerks II catches up with 'em nearly a year later as they're flipping burgers at the local Mooby's. Now in his thirties, Dante is determined to take some initiative and do something with his life. Sure, it's the same line he's rattled off since Kris Kross were still topping the charts, but this time it looks like it actually might amount to something. Dante's engaged, and he and his bride-to-be are counting down the last few hours until they can leave Jersey behind and set up shop in sunny Florida. The almost-wife's family is setting him up with a job and a house, and even if Emma wears the pants in the relationship and doesn't really get Dante, she's Hollywood-thin, out of his league but interested in Dante anyway...why not, he asks with a shrug?

So, it's goodbye Mooby's. Goodbye Randal. Goodbye arguments about the appropriateness of going ass-to-mouth. Goodbye sheltered, Transformers-obsessed, teenaged Jesus freak Elias (Trevor Fehrman). Goodbye cool, busty boss lady Becky (Rosario Dawson). Even though Dante and Emma are gonna be Southbound and down the next morning, he clocks in for one last day at the fast food joint anyway. And since there's a feature-length flick about it, kinda goes without saying that there's more going on than refilling napkin holders and super-sizing value meals. Dante wants to strut his stuff on the dance floor at the reception, so Becky pulls him up on the roof for a quick lesson, with Dante discovering mid-jiggle that he has to struggle with more than one life-changing decision. His long-time pal wants to send him off the right way, and for Sexy Randal the Pharoah Wizard, that means something more fucked up than either of 'em had ever seen. Oh, and Jay and Silent Bob are back from rehab, so...yeah. It's witty! It's funny! It's repulsive! It's really kinda touching! It's a Kevin Smith movie.

Smith caught a lot of flack when he first announced Clerks II for making another Askewniverse flick instead of trying something new. Not exactly uncharted territory, no, but Smith isn't stuck in neutral, mindlessly lobbing out one "hey, remember in the first Clerks when...?" callback after another or anything. If you think making a sequel is holding him back as a filmmaker, try watching Mallrats and Clerks II back-to-back and tell me that Kevin Smith is the same writer/director he was ten years ago. Clerks II combines the best elements of Smith's previous movies, from the vulgar sparkle of its dialogue to a surprisingly resonant emotional core.

Careful not to be too heavy-handed with the emotional stuff, Smith deftly mixes it in so that it still packs a punch but doesn't drag down the pacing or feel like it's been spliced in from a completely different movie. In a flick with a cock-tucked nod to Silence of the Lambs, a character slowly coming to the realization (outloud) that his grandmother was a racist hatemonger, a geek-fueled debate pitting the Lord of the Rings trilogy against Star Wars, and a showcase to Tijuana-bred interspecices debauchery, the way Smith managed to coax a "Wow." and a lump in the throat from me is pretty remarkable. Maybe it's just because I'm creeping towards thirty myself, but I can relate too well to the idea of waiting for life to happen to you, and some of the way-hetero heartfelt stuff between Dante and Randal in the movie's last few minutes really hit home.

...but even with that element of it, Clerks II is still Kevin Smith's flat-out funniest movie to date. Its sense of humor is more in the league of the original Clerks than the hit-or-miss zaniness! of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, getting most of its laughs from the rapid-fire back-and-forth dialogue instead of sight gags and slapstick. What's really surprising is that even with the raunch and vulgarity cranked up to 11, Clerks II made it past the MPAA without having to undergo a single snip.

There are little things I could bitch about, but nothing that makes me want to pull a Joel Siegel and steer anyone away from it. A deus ex machina in the last few minutes is kinda unnecessary. The two leads aren't exactly going to be doing Shakespeare in the Park or anything, although there's something kind of endearing about the fact that Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson aren't overly seasoned actors. A couple of sequences admittedly seem like they were kind of shoved in self-indulgently rather than to suit the story, but I laughed and therefore don't care so much. As a sheltered, repressed dweeb who associates almost exclusively with other sheltered, repressed dweebs, Elias is too unbelievably out there, but again...laughed. Don't care.

It's a ballsy move to make a sequel to Clerks. The original movie was a seminal slice of '90s indie cinema, a debut that's easy to argue is among the most important movies of the entire decade. Forget Clerks' legacy or whatever impact it left on the cinematic landscape and just look at Clerks II for what it is: a sharply written, hysterical movie with a solid emotional kick. Easily Smith's best since Chasing Amy. If I weren't such a pussy, I'd probably say it's the best thing he's ever done. Highly Recommended.

Video: Kevin Smith spends the better part of one of the disc's audio commentaries explaining the look of Clerks II; this isn't a glossy, shiny studio comedy, and Smith didn't particularly want it to look like one. Aside from a sunny dance number, Clerks II is a deliberately grainy movie with a desaturated palette and slightly exaggerated contrast. It's an aesthetic that suits the tone of the film, and even if that keeps Clerks II from standing out as the most eye-popping high-def disc out there, the movie still looks awfully nice on HD DVD.

It's not overflowing with fine detail, but the image remains reasonably sharp and detailed throughout, with tighter shots appearing particularly impressive. With as many audio commentaries as there are on this disc, I've spent quite a lot of time staring at Clerks II over the past couple of days, and I couldn't spot any compression hiccups or specks in the source. Whether or not you'll dig the movie's style, I have no idea (I know these guys won't), but after listening to its audio commentaries, this HD DVD of Clerks II looks exactly like what Kevin Smith and cinematographer David Klein say they had in mind. Not "hey, lookit my three thousand dollar TV" demo material, no, but nice lookin' movie, nice lookin' HD DVD, and a considerable step up over what I'd expect from a regular standard definition disc.

Clerks II is offered in 1080p with an aspect ratio somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.78:1, and like the other HD DVDs from The Weinstein Company, the movie has been encoded using MPEG-4.

Audio: The Weinstein Company didn't spell it out on the case for Clerks II, but this HD DVD is one of just a few to sport a lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, even if I couldn't make out any real difference flipping back and forth between it and the usual Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio. 'Course, Clerks II is pretty much one conversation after another, not really lending itself to megaton explosions or sound effects careening from one channel to another.

The mix is naturally anchored around Kevin Smith's unrelentingly witty-slash-vulgar dialogue, and it's rendered cleanly and clearly throughout. Smith has also assembled an eclectic soundtrack -- everything from The Jackson Five to an a capella spin on King Diamond's "Welcome Home" -- and most of 'em pack enough bass to really get the subwoofer rumbling. Is the audio immersive? Expansive? Not so much, but Clerks II's somewhat subdued sound design is a perfect fit for this kind of material, and that's really all that matters.

Along with the pair of English 5.1 tracks, the disc also includes a French dub and subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: The cover art for Clerks II screams "Loaded with over 6 hours of bonus features!" And they're right 'cause 8 hours and change of bells and whistles is indeed over 6 hours.

The early buzz online was that all of the extras on Clerks II would be presented in high-def. Turns out that's not the case. I guess the sheer volume of material (the same as the DVD set) still required a second disc, but everything's in garden variety standard definition. It's all 16x9-enhanced, though, which is the next best thing.

Disc one features no fewer than three audio commentaries. The first teams Kevin Smith with producer Scott Mosier and cinematographer David Kline, leaning almost entirely towards the technical end of things. The discussion is geared around look of the movie and the nuts and bolts of production. If you're savvy enough to know what jargon like "3 perf" and "DI" mean without cheating (I take some nerdy delight in being in that group), this is the track for you, running through how The 25th Hour helped shape the lighting and photography, why they shot on film instead of high-def video, and working with Kline after a bout with the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond. Smith does take care to explain the terminology to keep the track accessible, but this is much more of a film geek chat. To me, that's a good thing. To most people...? Probably not.

Smith and Mosier pop up in the other commentary tracks as well. Commentary number two features most of the key cast: Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes, Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Mrs. Kevin Smith, Jennifer Schwalbach. It's not a "the thematic significance of this scene is..." so much as gabbing about on-set flings, Fehrman fending off a headphone-induced near-death experience and inadvertently offending Jason Lee and Rosario Dawson during filming, Mewes debating the hierarchy of actors considered for a part in a movie, and what Smith and some of the other cast members would be doing if not for acting in the original Clerks. Light 'n funny, this is closer to what fans have come to expect from a View Askew track.

A longtime audio commentary nut, Kevin Smith had a clever idea: record a commentary for fans to download and play on their iPods while the movie's still in theaters. No one had ever done that before, and...well, you can still say that 'cause the plan was dropped when theater chains balked. That unused podcast commentary -- with Smith, Mosier, and Jeff Anderson -- is on this HD DVD. It's less manic than the commentary with the full cast but is probably my favorite of the three tracks on this disc. They spend a fair amount of time talking about what could have been: the first drafts of the script saw Dante and Randal toiling away on the Kingsburg boardwalk, and Smith and Anderson chat about what these two characters would've been doing, exactly, along with some discussion about unused scenes like Randal smirkingly teaching Elias how to play strip poker. Other notes include the marketing headaches of bad taglines and clumsy post-colon subtitles, how the actors with Y chromosomes stepped up their game whenever Rosario Dawson was in the room, Harvey Weinstein insisting on a shot of Pillow Pants in an on-screen vagina set, a very detailed examination of the lengthy scene that closes out the movie, and when to take a piss or buy popcorn at the movie theater. If you're renting this disc and only have time to listen to one of the three commentaries, this'd be the one I'd recommend.

Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier taped introductions for the movie itself and most of the extras, and they run right at fifteen minutes in total. There are intros for both types of the extra footage Smith unearthed, beginning with more than 36 minutes of extended scenes. One lengthy exchange between Dante and Randal about the consequences of jerking off in the women's bathroom is referenced all over the commentaries and other extras, and despite being as funny as anything in the movie, it was cut for sounding too much like something from the original Clerks. It's the highlight of the additional scenes on this set, which also includes more of Jay and Silent Bob's newfound religious devotion, more chatter about Emma's oversized clit, explaining how Dante and Emma wound up together, explaining the plot convenience at the end of the flick, and lots and lots of Earthquake and Wanda Sykes improvising mid-porch-monkey-earshot.

I'm not as much a fan of blooper reels as most people seem to be, but I really dug the 27 minute one tossed on here. (I think Kevin Smith wanted to call it something other than a blooper reel, but...fuck it. It's a blooper reel.) There's some condiment chaos, Jason Lee's unique way of mumbling when he blows a line, Mewes being whacked over and over again by a heavy metal door...comedy gold.

The Clerks II website features something like eight hours of video journals, and ten of those "train wrecks" -- just over 45 minutes' worth -- are packed onto disc two. Mullet musings, Jason Mewes introducing some of the crew that lurk behind the scenes, Mewes and Jason Lee performing "The Tongue Song", Schwalbach and O'Halloran commenting on the chafing dozen-plus takes of making-out, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez giving Smith some feedback, the eight minute standing ovation the movie earned at Cannes, a very interesting piece on the layering that went into the torched Quick Stop, the photo shoot for the theatrical one-sheets, and the cast pulling a prank on Kevin during the last day of filming. Yeah, I think that's everything.

A twenty minute VH-1 special on the making of Clerks II is your standard issue promotional piece. Lotsa clips from the movie. Talking head interviews about the cast! The set! The cameos! A scattered word or two are bleeped, but I guess the two big advantages this special has over what aired on VH-1 is that the "fuck"s are uncensored and it's enhanced for 16x9 displays. Another featurette, clocking in around nine minutes, has Zak Knutson chatting about how he landed his sultry role in the movie and figuring out which one it was with a skim through the script.

That already sounds like a hell of a special edition -- and it is -- but the set also includes the making-of documentary Back to the Well which, at 87 minutes, is about as long as the movie itself. It starts off with Smith delving into his state of mind after the unpleasantness of shooting Jersey Girl and how Green Hornet wasn't shaping up to be any better. After explaining why Smith wanted to make the movie in the first place, the doc tackles pretty much every conceivable angle -- the evolution of the story, the studio's reaction to the early drafts, the parade of starlets who passed on the role of Becky, how much of Jay's backstory in the movie (even though it's played for laughs) is lifted directly from Mewes' struggles with drugs, Kevin's fascination with the Sexy Stud's spit-lube, test screenings, the final sound mix, their low expectations for Cannes coupled with an unexpectedly exuberant reception, all the way through the movie's red carpet premiere. Very candid. Very comprehensive. The best extra on an already exceptional set.

I didn't do much menu-trawling to find more, but disc two also includes at least one extremely easy-to-spot Easter egg.

Clerks II comes packaged in a standard size HD DVD case that opens up to reveal one disc on each side, thankfully opting against the center-flap thing that Paramount seems to prefer for their 2-disc HD DVD sets. Like The Weinstein Company's other HD DVDs, the disc sports a set of nicely designed animated menus.

Conclusion: Anyone seeking out an unflinchingly objective, unbiased write-up should probably turn to someone who's not so much a Kevin Smith fanboy, but yes, Clerks II is by far my favorite of Smith's movies. One of my top picks from the comedies of the class of '06 and an all-around solid HD DVD. Highly Recommended.

I've read that the HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 struggles a bit with Clerks 2. I didn't have any problems -- nothing I could duplicate with another spin, anyway -- on my Toshiba HD-A1 player, but owners of the Xbox 360 drive might want to give Clerks 2 a rental first or do some additional reading before forking over twenty bucks and change.

Probably goes without saying, but the pictures scattered around this review are from promotional stills and don't necessarily reflect the way Clerks II looks on HD DVD.
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