The movies that Kevin Smith has spun off from his no-budget 1994 hit “Clerks”–the so-called “View Askew” series that include “Dogma” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”–now reach a logical end, or at least a pregnant pause, with this explicit sequel to the original picture, which finds Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), older but not appreciably wiser, relocated from their dead-end job at a run-down convenience store to an equally dismal gig at a grubby fast-food restaurant called Mooby’s, bickering as always. But their long-lived slacker camaraderie is soon to change, as Dante is about to get married and move to Florida with wife-to-be Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach). But there’s a hitch: he’s really attracted to his boss Becky (Rosario Dawson). So the question is whether the old team will really be broken up by matrimony.
One could easily read a bit more than simple camaraderie into the Dante-Randal relationship, but that’s surely not intended. What’s unfortunately clear is that their stream-of-consciousness conversations are far more scabrous than, but not nearly as amusing as, the ones they exchanged more than a decade ago. What saves “Clerks II” from being a real washout isn’t them, or the big finale that involves some jolly old sodomy and a heart-to-heart the guys share in a jail cell. Nor is it the stream of guest stars that show up for brief turns–Ethan Suplee, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Wanda Sykes and producer Scott Mosier. Even the obligatory reappearance of Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and director Smith) doesn’t prove all that exciting; we’ve seen an awful lot of them by now, and the routines they do here aren’t particular grabbers. Indeed, most of the business that involves the old hands and their buddies is more gross than genuinely funny.
There is a somewhat saving grace, though, in a new member of the ensemble–Trevor Fehrman, who plays Elias, a geeky momma’s boy and Jesus freak who’s the low man on the totem pole at Mooby’s and is continually put upon by the fast-talking Randal. Fehrman gives this pathetic figure an odd, quirky likableness, and Randal his best pop-culture harangue of the shift, when he offers a blistering assault on Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy which Elias and a fellow devotee try to counter. It’s the best-written riff in the movie, and makes the rest of Smith’s script sound either tepid or all too obviously designed to shock.
“Clerks II” is technically a bit more sophisticated than the original, but not by much. The best sight gag–the one that explains the boys’ move from the Quick Stop to Mooby’s–occurs near the very beginning, and nothing that follows it (even a big musical number) measures up. And it has to be said that Smith’s command of the visual side of the medium hasn’t appreciably advanced over the years; the camera placement is still rudimentary, the pacing lackadaisical, the editing marginal. The technical weaknesses aren’t as harmful here as they’ve been in the director’s more ambitious projects, but they certainly don’t make this movie a pleasure for the eye.
More damaging is the fact that, apart from Elias, the characters in the picture aren’t all that engaging, or the dialogue all that bright. The movie lacks the goofy, easygoing spontaneity of “Clerks,” and replaces it with too much crudity and (oddly enough) sentiment and very little real wit. The result is like a snack that’s sat in a display case too long and gone stale. Unless you’re a die-hard fan who hangs on Smith’s every word (or Silent Bob’s every expression), the proper response to “Clerks II” is “no sale.”