Having run the gamut from the foul-mouthed indie scene ("Clerks") to the full studio sentimental romantic drama ("Jersey Girl"), New Jersey director Kevin Smith opts for something in between for his first direct sequel "Clerks 2". The original has gone down as one of the seminal movies in not just the indie film world, but to a lesser extent 90's movie making in general. This sequel certainly won't have that kind of impact, in fact much of it will be forgotten by most soon after they leave the theatre.
Yet for the time that you watch it, Smith delivers a polished and effective comedy that alternates between hilarious gross-out jokes and pop culture rifts, and a somewhat interesting if cloy take on the ever present issue of growing up in life which most of us have to face in our late 20's/early 30's. With a brisk 98 minute runtime and focus set on only a few central characters, the film doesn't suffer from the overload of roles and exposition that bogged down the likes of "Dogma" and "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back".
Yet this can't help but feel like somewhat of a safe, middle-of-the-road effort at times. The humour, as much as it is blunt and raucous, feels more immature "American Pie" style than the edgy wit Smith can bring to the table. The resulting gags about bestiality, racial slurs and the finer points of rim job etiquette are hilarious yet somewhat more blatantly crude than the likes of "Mallrats" or "Chasing Amy".
Smith's signature knack for clever dialogue remains with several very funny character arguments over pop culture (most notably Lord of the Rings), but that is often weighed down with some hokey sentimental bits about getting older and deciding what one wants to do with their life. It's an interesting and universal issue, one that as a 28-year-old writer who himself often wonders where else my life could've gone, could probably empathise with more than many a punter off the street.
Yet these dramatic bits feel far too lightweight. There's a good moral lesson in there about staying true to yourself but the film takes too long dancing around the issue, and when it finally faces it there just isn't the impact it obviously wants to achieve. I'll always be grateful to Smith for "Chasing Amy", a film which remains one of my favourite of all time, simply because there was a movie which balanced Smith's signature naughty but smart sense of comedy with a dramatic character story that had the impact of a sledgehammer to the chest. "Clerks II" by comparison is a light tap on the shoulder.
Part of that might be the acting which is relatively uneven. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson return to their roles and whilst both do alright, neither bring more than what's on the page. O'Halloran in particular, stuck with the harder and more complicated part, never quite convincingly pulls off the portrayal - especially when paired with Rosario Dawson who simply radiates life and joy into the film. Cameos from Ben Affleck and Jason Lee are cute but add little to the film, though Kevin Weisman (better known as tech geek Marshall on TV's "Alias") beautifully works his bit in one of the film's best scenes.
The stealers as always though are Mewes and Smith himself with Jay & Silent Bob always getting the best lines and gag setups, including a hilarious spoof of Buffalo Bill's dance from "The Silence of the Lambs" - if you're gonna do a satire of movie scenes, Smith certainly knows to only do the best. Kudos also to Trevor Fehrman who, stuck in a Justin Long-like role that's the butt of many a joke, manages to turn an over the top written side character into a memorable and valuable new part of the View Askew universe.
Production values are polished and well done, Smith having now got the professional look down pat which makes the low budget movie comes across with far more polish and gleam than films twice its cost. Ultimately though it'll be interesting to see how this fits in the pantheon of his films, though for now it works despite some clunky elements about which Smith should've known better. In what has been a lacklustre Summer film season this is easily one of the best efforts in a while, an unapologetic crowd pleaser that sets out only to entertain and for the most part succeeds admirably.