Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Movie: Clerks 2

I'm a sucker for Kevin Smith.

I've always thought his movies, for the most part, are little more than overhyped stoner humor. Until recently, he was not a very good editor (more on this in a minute.) His movies had long, painful-to-watch segements with little humor and horrible pacing. His first, Clerks, is the worst example of this and, believe it or not, the much-maligned Mallrats is probably the best movie (before C2) in this regard, mostly because the studio made him cut so much out.

His jokes are of the gross-out variety, or the repetitive variety, or both. And he (over)used the incredibly unfunny Will Farrell in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in one of those really long, jokeless scenes that should have hit the cutting room floor. The best, and only, joke in that scene was one made by a cameo character (and it wasn't John Stewert using the term "C.L.I.T." repeatedly. That wasn't funny.) In fact, the best parts of some of his movies are listening to the ensemble commentaries on the DVDs.

But somehow, in the face of all this rational dislike, I am a sucker for Kevin Smith. I laugh at his repeated jokes and his toilet humor. I think Chasing Amy is a great love story. There are many who will disagree with me on that count, but it hits me in my cold, dead heart in ways many other so-called romance movies don't.

So, to beat the heat and satisfy my need for guilty pleasures, I checked out Clerks 2.

The first thing that I noticed is that this is Smith's tightest film to date in terms of editing. There's no long, malingering scenes that wear out their welcome and start to stink. He's figured out how editing works, and that was one of his biggest problems. One of the problems facing most artists is knowing which bits to cut out, and when you don't have the benefit of a studio-appointed editor going "no, that sucks, take it out" (Mr. Lucas, I'm looking in your direction), it's a hard lesson to learn on your own, especially when you didn't start out with those kinds of artistic requirements or limitations.

Of course, there's a good helping of dick-and-fart jokes, bestiality, and offensive language. Par for the course. But the two main characters, now in their early 30s and working as a pair of slackers at a burger joint, seem like they don't belong there anymore - and Smith intentionally sets this up. For all its debauchery and simplistic surface meaning, Clerks 2 may be the most complex of Smith's films. He's showing that he's grown up with the audience, and of the people who laughed at Clerks, he's challenging them to grow up with this movie, too. Just as the audience is sitting there laughing at Dante and Randall for working in a burger joint, Smith in turn asks the audience why they're still sitting in a theater laughing at such stupid humor.

Reading online reviews, people in their mid-20s and older - those of us who were teens when Clerks came out - love this movie. The current crop of teens don't. The reason for that is clear: we're old enough to "get" what Smith is doing both for us and to us, and while we're laughing at it, we're also looking inside and trying to sort out our own lives. Are we really just flipping burgers and cracking the same jokes, even in a methaphorical sense? I suspect the answer to that from a large majority of my peers would be "yes."

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