Cast: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes
"No sir, the Transformers are not a gift from God. They are an unholy curse from the beast we call the Desolate One."
My first foray into independent film, as well as the birthplace of my entire cinematic future, hit me during the freedom of my senior year in high school. At the time, I had no idea there was an entire underground world of film that pushed the boundaries of expected convention to produce some truly, unique work. I can proudly say my first encounter with this world was the phenomenal Sundance-darling, "Clerks". I remember seeing an episode of "Siskel and Ebert" when they talked about the film, but I didn't give it a second thought. When one of my friends caught a late night showing of the movie at the mall in the last theater down the hall, he immediately called me and demanded I come back with him the next night. "Clerks" was like nothing I had ever seen… it was easily the funniest and most clever thing my tiny brain had ever wrapped itself around.
We came back with a crowd.
It amuses me to think back to that time because, watching it now, "Clerks" feels a tad dated and stocky, lacking the punch it had before I committed it to memory through dozens of viewings over the last decade. Like a lot of people, I was terrified when I headed for the theater last year to catch "Clerks II"… a sequel picking up a full ten years after the events of the first film.
If you've ever seen a film written and directed by Kevin Smith, you probably think he's either a modern, comic genius with spectacular wit… or a tired hack that can't break free of the juvenile antics that made him so popular in the first place. Before you read this review or decide whether you'll give "Clerks II" a chance, you might want to identify which of these camps you belong to. If you love everything that drips from Smith's pen onto his lense, you'll be in heaven when you have the chance to finally see this movie (although you already know that because you caught "Clerks II" during its theatrical run). If you find the filmmaker trite and repetitive, you'll absolutely hate this movie long before it changes course and becomes something no Smith film has become before.
A year after a fire destroys our lovable heroes' convenience store, Dante and Randal (Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson) find themselves working at a local, fast food restaurant called Mooby's. Their manager, Becky (Rosario Dawson), is fun loving but hardworking, their coworker, Elias (Trevor Fehrman), is blundering and naïve, the local drug dealers, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself), are mischievous but reformed by rehab, and their customers (cameos galore) are left at the mercy of the restaurant employees' sophomoric shenanigans. However, it's not all fun and games… Randal is distraught over the coming departure of Dante, his best-friend-for-life, as he prepares to move to Florida with his fiancé (played with gusto by Smith's wife, Jennifer Schwalbach). Sure, it sounds like it would be a clumsy, teen comedy or a straight-to-video-National-Lampoon wreck… but I can assure you, it's something entirely different.
As an enormous fan of Smith's work, I felt right at home as soon as the opening scene disappeared, replaced by the blocky title. Smith deftly crafts a story that reunites many of the characters from the original "Clerks" and gives them a believable role in his universe. The writing is raunchy, unpredictable, and slaps you across the face every five minutes with something so unbelievably funny, you'll wish you could stop and catch your breath. Like the first "Clerks"… and, well, every Kevin Smith movie… the dialogue takes center stage and highlights sketches that swirl together as they rush along the film's actual plot. The new additions to the Smith universe, namely Becky and Elias, are excellent and the performances from every actor in the film is exceptional. It's crass and sharp… but it's also genuine and endearing.
The thing that elevates "Clerks II" to the next level is the completely unexpected undercurrent of sweetness and loyalty on display throughout the movie. The story is actually about friendship, the pure loyalty that would make us jump in front of a bullet for someone, and the moments that define our relationships with each other. Even more important, Smith introduces the notion that these brats from Neverland are never certain when, and if, they should grow up. As Dante and Randal approach their thirties, the dreams of their twenties seem lost and distant and they begin to seriously evaluate the paths of their lives, each in their own, conflicted way.
If there's anything wrong with "Clerks II" it involves Smith's tendency to try and top himself. Smith tosses situations onto the screen that have to be seen to be believed (Pillow Pants and the Donkey Show, among others) and some of you will roll your eyes at the over-the-top foolishness that puts his characters through the paces. But keep in mind, these scenes (aside from being hilarious) are road bumps to propel Dante and Randal into heavier self-reflection and change. If you feel the need to brush off this film as a pop-culture parade, I would point to the go-cart excursion and the jailhouse lock-up conversation near the end of "Clerks II" to prove that you should give it a serious chance.
The video is presented in 1080p using the AVP MPEG-4 codec, and really livens up the low budget visuals of the feature. It's not a showcase piece, but that's because of the cinematography and Smith's back-camera styling. It does create the perfect mood to compliment Dante's gauntlet and it's not an ugly film by any stretch of the imagination.
If you placed this HD-DVD side by side with its standard DVD edition, you'd be floored at the upgrade. The artifacting in the standard DVD is nearly gone and only reappears on a small scale if you're hunting for it. This is a 30 GB HD-DVD, but it's so packed full of extras that you can't expect much more out of the compression of the transfer. The contrast levels are purposefully blown and the colors clash at every opportunity, but it again furthers Smith's tone and doesn't distract or detract from the film. Skin color, texture, and edging is great and there's little to complain about with the technical presentation on this disc.
The audio is amazingly full for a low budget film and there's an impressive range of warm, soft, and boisterous tones rolling through each speaker. Again, this is largely a movie driven by its dialogue so you can't expect everything to blow your mind. But the sound design is spot on and blends the exceptionally fitting soundtrack with the rapid delivery of each conversation. While I'm on the subject, the music is another goldmine from Smith and, while it doesn't work nearly as well outside of the context of the movie, it compliments everything on the screen and hardly ever takes a misstep.
Like any home video release of a Kevin Smith film, this one is packed with supplemental features spread across two discs. You certainly get a great value for the money and it's the sort of special edition you should spend a weekend crawling through. Smith is vastly experienced with the presentation of his supplements at this point and works to make sure the information across the hours of commentaries and documentaries doesn't repeat itself too often.
First up is a trio of entertaining and informative commentaries that are definitely worth your time. I should mention that I listened to these tracks on the standard DVD edition a month ago, but nothing has been added or deleted for this HD-DVD release. Anyway, there's a technical track with Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and DP David Klein that covers details of "Clerks II" during its writing, pre-production, filming, post-production, marketing and release. Anyone who's listened to a Smith commentary or watched the jaw dropping "Evening with Kevin Smith" films knows that the man is a master storyteller. Laughs abound and you can feel the respect bouncing about the room between the three filmmakers. The next track features Smith and Mosier with actors Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes, and Jennifer Schwalbach. Faster, funnier, and more lively, this is the track for anecdotes, shots at Smith and each other, and more for the casual fan. I really had a good time listening to this track and only wished the HD-DVD presented it as a video commentary. But this would've taken the film's visual quality down another notch so I'm willing to concede this minor quibble. Finally, there's a podcast commentary with Smith, Mosier, and Anderson. It tends to cover a bit of material present in the other commentaries and I had a much harder time keeping focused… although it could be because I was working on my third commentary track in three days. If you skip one, definitely skip this one… but make sure to take advantage of the first two as they're comical companion pieces to the film.
Next, you'll run into a slew of deleted scenes which were a bit disappointing to me. I'm used to a wealth of deleted material on Smith's releases and this set of deletions felt a bit light and unnecessary. Since his films all receive an anniversary treatment, I'd imagine that some material is being held back for future editions. It doesn't seem like Smith's style, but I can't imagine another reason unless he suddenly became miraculously more efficient in shooting and editing his movies. Most disappointing is an extended scene with Wanda Sykes in the checkout line at Mooby's. Smith describes the cut as "hilarious" but I found it to be repetitive. The audio was unmastered and I was having a hard time deciphering everything that was said.
At your next stop, you'll find a 90 minute, making-of documentary that covers the entire production of "Clerks II". This is also worth the investment and caps off the experience with a view of Smith's set. Finishing out this HD-DVD edition, you should take a moment to check out the bloopers for a final laugh. You can skip the production diaries and the self-congratulatory VH1 special (essentially an extended trailer) as they're only on the disc for completists.
Want more bang for your buck? Be sure to pick up "Clerks II", a seasoned and well-rounded package that's worth every penny. Want to laugh your nuts off for an entire weekend? Make sure you take advantage of everything this edition has to offer. Want to see if you suddenly like a Kevin Smith movie when you've hated his other features? You should probably avoid this one. It is different though and it's video and audio presentation is some of the best you'll see for a low-budget film. This is a fantastic movie with surprising heart and you should be proud to have it in your collection!