‘Clerks II’: Growth and gross-outs
Director Kevin Smith’s sequel to his groundbreaking Clerks is a coming-of-age story for guys in their 30s who never grew up.
The first film, which came out in 1994, was a homemade, grainy, black-and-white chronicle of one slacker’s daylong shift of misery at a tiny convenience store that became a cultural touchstone for Generation X and inspired a wave of do-it-yourself filmmakers.
Clerks II, set for release this fall, picks up more than a decade later with the two cashier-jockeys from the 1994 original: sweet-but-stagnated Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and his insult-spewing friend Randal (Jeff Anderson).
A calamity at their shops sends them looking for new horizons – but they ultimately settle at Mooby’s, a fictional Disney-McDonald’s-style fast-food empire.
Not exactly a promotion.
“I’ve got nothing to say about fast food,” director Smith says during an exclusive USA TODAY visit to the yellow and purple restaurant he’s using as a set. “But I’ve got everything to say about getting past that period of life where you’ve been one person for 10 or 15 years and suddenly you have to change.”
Free from his dead-end job (and lodged in a new one), Dante begins to break free of his rut, planning to move away with his clingy fianc√àe, played by Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, who used to work for USA TODAY. Dante is ready to leave the horrors of minimum-wage New Jersey behind, but Randal – always the more hostile of the two – starts to become overwhelmed by his own rancor.
“I wanted to see what happened to the characters when they lost their center point,” Smith says, sitting on the creaky merry-go-round outside the restaurant building they’ve co-opted for the shoot. “It opened up a world for Dante. He met somebody, fell in love and got engaged, then he met somebody else (the restaurant manager, played by Rosario Dawson). He reacted well to the outside world, while Randal just got more closed up and scared and angrier.
“The whole flick comes down to whether or not the two of them can reach a compromise of some sort,” Smith adds. “It really comes down to the choice a friend makes for another friend.”
The writer/director, speaking as a giant fiberglass cartoon cow stares from the restaurant roof, calls it a series of love stories.
But Clerks II is so audaciously raunchy – one scene is sure to challenge the squeamishness of even the most ardent gross-out comedy fan – that Smith says the film may ultimately make its debut unrated, even if that restricts its availability at some theaters. (Clerks initially was rated NC-17 for its frank talk, but on appeal, it got an R.)
Smith’s screen alter ego, the trench-coated drug dealer Silent Bob, and his oversexed “hetero life mate” Jay ( Jason Mewes) also return for the sequel, still hanging around, but no longer using – a reflection of Mewes’ sobriety after fighting drug addiction, and a sign that even Smith’s most cartoonish characters grow and change.
“This is talking about the movie in far loftier terms than most people ever will,” says Smith, whose script relies heavily on sex and gross-out jokes.
“In terms of the edginess of the humor, I don’t think we’ve ever gone this far before,” the director says. “People who are really critical of us and dismiss us for making (dirty-joke) pictures: They’re right, they’re not wrong. But at the same time, that’s not all we do.”
‘Clerks II’: Growth and gross-outs