Clerks II

Clerks II

It is a truism that movie sequels are almost never as good as the original. There is no exception to report here.

I liked Clerks quite a bit. It’s not one of my favorite movies of all time, but it was entertaining from start to finish. Plenty of good laughs, but also a charming film on a human level.

Clerks II fails to duplicate what made Clerks special. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say it does have some of the same elements, but just not to the same degree, or even close. It’s as if Kevin Smith started out with one and a third movies worth of solid, well-written, funny Clerks-type material, used a full movie’s worth on Clerks, and now had only that little remainder left to try to stretch out into another movie.

It’s been a long time since I saw Clerks, so it’s possible I’m misremembering and/or overrating it. But the main difference between the two, I think, is Clerks was much more realistic. Sure there was oddball stuff, but it was oddball stuff you could imagine really happening. Or if it did require a suspension of disbelief, it was only to the degree that, say, a Cheers episode or some sitcom would.

With Clerks II though, a lot of the intended humor comes from elements that too obviously would never happen in real life.

In Clerks, Randal the video store clerk was a stitch–a slacker loser drifting through life, dropping in the occasional hilarious cynical, sexual, and/or scatological pronouncement. But whereas in the original, those remarks flowed naturally from conversation, in the sequel everything out of his mouth is a punch line. He’s not a full person anymore; he’s just a mouthpiece for the writers to try to score with Clerks-like witticisms. It becomes like watching a bad comedian who comes up with a good line maybe 20% of the time, and just drones on and on with clunkers the rest of the time.

If Randal is stripped of the bulk of his personhood and reduced to that degree to an empty caricature, the new cast member–a Christian nerd co-worker of Dante and Randal–never has any personhood beyond being an empty caricature to begin with. He isn’t someone you’d meet in real life, or in Clerks; he’s someone you’d see in bad sketch comedy.

The “donkey” scene has the humor that comes from outrageousness, but really not much more. I wasn’t offended by it as I’m sure many people would be, but it just didn’t play out as anything uproariously funny to me (for one thing because the main gag is so blatantly telegraphed, and more than once at that). The scene is probably no funnier than reading a one paragraph description of it. And again, it was handled in a way that couldn’t happen in a million years in real life, for multiple reasons.

So Clerks II isn’t bad; it’s just a watered down version of something that was far better. I laughed at quite a few things in Clerks II, but fewer than in Clerks. I thought some of the characters were inherently funny and interesting in Clerks II, but quite a bit less than in Clerks. I cared about some elements of the storyline in Clerks II and thought there were some nice moments that struck an emotional chord with me, but Clerks was substantially more charming in that way.

Looking back over what I’ve written, I should say I probably enjoyed Clerks II more than one would infer from my comments. Yes, for me there was a noticeable drop-off in quality from the original, but if you really liked the style and the characters of Clerks, you’ll probably find Clerks II at least somewhat worthwhile. It was kind of fun to spend some time hanging out with these goofballs again.

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