Kevin Smith in Clerks II

In 1994, Kevin Smith was working as a convenience-store counter jockey in a New Jersey strip-mall when he hit the Hollywood jackpot with 'Clerks,' a low-budget comedy about two guys who, um, work at a convenience store in a New Jersey strip-mall. The film chronicles a day in the life of Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and his best buddy Randal (Jeff Anderson), two well-spoken slackers in their early 20s, as they make fun of customers for renting 'Navy Seals,' debate the deeper moral questions suggested by 'Star Wars' ("Were any innocent independent contractors killed in the Death Star explosion?") and grapple with girlfriend issues (current girlfriend is a fellatio addict, ex-girlfriend has a sexual encounter with a corpse), all while Dante bemoans the cruelty of fate and the futility of his life. The film captured the aimlessness of the twentysomething generation, and it was awarded with cult classic status as a result.

Twelve years after this auspicious beginning -- and two years after recieving a box-office and critical thrashing for 'Jersey Girl' - Smith returns to familiar and somewhat hallowed ground with 'Clerks II,' the second (and final?) chapter in the Dante-Randal saga. And -- loyal fans better sit down for this -- there have been a couple of big changes. For one, Dante and Randal have (involuntarily) traded in clerkdom at Quick Stop for the more glamorous gig of flipping burgers at Mooby's and -- in the biggest shocker of them all -- drug-dealers and professionalloiterers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are now sober! Dante and Randal are also facing different, more mature problems this time around. Dante is preparing to turn in his hair net, renounce his Jersey roots and head to Florida to run a car wash with his fiancée Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith), that is if he can get over his conflicted feelings for Mooby's lovely manager Becky (Rosario Dawson). Meanwhile, Randal is staring down a bleak fast-food future without his best friend, and is quickly realizing that he's an adult with a thankless job and only one true pal.

Fear not, though, there are some things in the Kevin Smith world that never change: Dante and Randal still wax pseudo-philosophical about sexual positions, romantic commitment and how the 'Lord of the Rings' stacks up to the original 'Star Wars' trilogy; Randal offends everyone on the planet (most notably with his accidental use of ethnic slurs); Dante hates his job while Randal takes a kind of twisted pleasure in his; and sobriety has not stopped illegal substance entreprenuers Jay and Silent Bob from hanging around outside, selling weed and acting like idiots.

Most reassuringly of all, however, 'Clerks II' retains the same tone, feel and sense of humor as the original, while advancing our beloved heroes into the "adult" stage of their lives. Smith specializes in the kind of preachy debate that defines the Dante-Randal relationship, and his flair for dialogue and one-liners hasn't lost a step with time. And the core relationship between Dante and Randal remains the focus, with Kevin Smith once again exploring a topic that is near and dear to his heart: hetero man love. What would Randal and Dante do without each other? How has their relationship changed in the past decade? Can their friendship survive something so traumatic as actually growing up? Much like 'Before Sunset,' the film takes characters that we knew and loved when they were unformed, innocent and had their whole lives ahead and reintroduces us to them when they've been bruised and battered by the world for another decade. The result is a sweet, poignant film about growing up that just so happens to be wrapped up inside a raunchy film about bestiality, bowel-movement jokes and lewd sex talk. And damn is it a thing of beauty.

Tags: Clerks, Kevin Smith, Rosario Dawson, New Jersey, Quick Stop, summer movies
categories Features, Cinematical