Thursday, January 24, 2008
From The "Things That Shouldn't Be" File
Man, I really wish Kevin Smith never made Clerks II. Sorry this is a post about a movie that came out a year and a half ago and nobody really cares about, but that's part of the problem, isn't it? It took me 15 months to watch a Kevin Smith movie. I should probably mention here that I fucking love Kevin Smith, both as a filmmaker and a personality. Clerks and Chasing Amy are both legit on my list of best movies of the '90s, Dogma is in many ways underrated, he tells one hell of an anecdote, he's a fat guy made good in a thin man's world...I love the guy. And I wouldn't see his new movie for fifteen months because I worried it'd depress me too much. I was right. The tactical retreat into the Quick Stop universe after the critical and commercial failure of Jersey Girl has the sickening feeling of waving the white flag. Jersey Girl was not an especially great movie, but as the first step in a new career direction, it showed some promise and it would have been interesting to see where he'd go next. But it bombed and now he's back making slacker comedies again, revisiting characters that should be left alone and making observations that have been made a billion times over.
Clerks II isn't the worst movie of 2006, which is admittedly where I was thinking it'd end up after the first 30 minutes when I decided to write this entry. There are some funny moments, a few sweet sequences, one great performance, and the comforting realization that Smith clearly shares my decidedly un-hip taste in music. He's branching out into more ambitious film techniques -- not all of them successful -- and confident enough to throw in a weirdo setpiece or two. All good things. But everything that was good about this movie should have been part of something else. Something better. A step forward instead of backward.
It's not that Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran became shitty actors in the twelve years since the first Clerks. They never could act. The original compensated for it when it could, but mostly the low-fi style and fresh and brilliant writing meant you didn't care. Their limitations and performers -- and they are severely limited -- are much more prominent and irritating this time around. The plight of the thirtysomething slacker isn't as foreign as many might think, but it's almost impossible to relate because Dante and Randall aren't people, they're words on a page being read as ineptly as humanly possible. These aren't errors in execution -- if you're going to make a Clerks movie, these are the characters, storylines, and actors you have to work with. The only way out of that is to not make another Clerks movie.
You know who doesn't suck, though, is Rosario Dawson. She plays a throughly mythical character that only a fanboy man-child like Kevin Smith could create, and I say that with a lot of love. She's hot, she's vulgar, she finds dumpy slackers attractive, and she'll get back to talking about her feelings just as soon as she sees this donkey show. Rosario Dawson manages to make this idealized construct into an actual person, and she continues to be the best thing about whatever movie she's in. The other scene-stealer in the cast is Trevor Fehrman, who I and only I remember from the direct-to-DVD semi-funny high school comedy Cheats, and who is hilarious as a Christo-nerdy message board type. Nice casting there.
Again, all these things that work could have -- and should have -- worked in the context of a movie that wasn't mired in all the Randall and Dante bullshit. Regressive isn't a color I like on most artists, and especially not on Kevin Smith, who already played the nostalgia card once with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I am praying his next movie, the seemingly non-Askewniverse Zack and Miri Make A Porno, signals a turning of the corner on his career, whether or not it succeeds. No more retreating. Oh, and hopefully no more arguing your Fan Wars bullshit about Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in a movie you want me to pay money to see. I can be annoyed by that shit for free on the internet.