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Take Two 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Clerks II & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the same week, during like seventh grade or something, I heard both Roger Ebert and my friend's older brother -- at different times, obviously -- talking about a phenomenon called "snowballing." I had no idea what context the older brother was using it in, but Roger Ebert was using it to illustrate the perverse, conversational genius of this guy named Kevin Smith and how his film Clerks -- which was filmed in black and white, produced for like $37,000 -- would change the way movies are made. This term seemed, by the hushed tones used by both men, scandalously sexual, and I wanted in. So I rented Clerks, by and by, some months later, and watched it in the relative safety of my grandmother's Nintendo room (best ... grandma ... ever). I was a changed kid.

Even then I knew it wasn't a good film, per se, but it made me laugh uncontrollably. And there's no doubt it was educational, deflowering my little mind like so many early blooming camp counselors. I became a consumer of Kevin Smith, watching his films evolve, from sick-out relationship muse-fests to earnest discussions of things like faith. Films with actual plots. Then, perhaps inevitably, I watched them devolve again.

Clerks II is the tail end of a hyperbolic arc of sorts, where Kevin Smith has dabbled in all these things (having plots and junk) and eventually returned to just this: alternately talking about sex with irreverence and life with the utmost sincerity. What makes this iteration interesting, as far as it goes, is that the two main characters, Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) have spent the 12 years since the first film doing the same stuff. Now, though, the weight of their respective ages is starting to hang on them, making it tougher to coast for years (decades) like they once did. That doesn't mean, of course, that they're going to stop coasting. Well, Dante kinda wants to, having shacked up with a girl who makes decisions for him and who has lined up a sweet management position for him at one of her father's car washes in Florida. So there's pre-mid-life-crisis friction, but it's a thin patina, a slightly cocked lens through which to re-evaluate Smith's vulgarity/sentimentality.

The second time I saw Clerks, years later, I was bored out of my mind, watching waves of overwritten dialogue smash against rocks of piss-poor acting. I'm not sure how Clerks II would make out on a second viewing, but probably about the same. O'Halloran and Anderson aren't better actors. In caricaturing their previous performance, to some extent, they're actually worse. Jason Mewes, though, is getting better, and this is perhaps the first time I've really enjoyed, rather than just laughed at, the Jay character. Smith has added absurdist elements and some effective slapstick, which makes the film surprising in parts. Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a gullible youth group kid, is the film's high point.

So, lukewarm praise, I suppose -- although Good Morning America's pun-packing critic, Joel Siegel, hated it enough to make it the first film he's ever walked out on. He walked out loudly, like the professional he is. So that's enough reason for me to endorse it. Further kudos, I guess, to Smith for still being able to offend people. And for still managing to teach me a thing or two about the unhygienic things New Jerseyites do between the sheets. (Take notes and hit up Wikipedia afterward. You'll be glad you did.)

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