Clerks II

(2006) *** R
98 min. MGM. Director: Kevin Smith. Cast: Brian Christopher O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith.

Not since The Wizard of Oz has the transition from black and white to color been so thrilling! At least that's what Kevin Smith's die-hard fans will say about Clerks II, the sequel to the writer-director's breakthrough 1994 debut. You needn't have seen Clerks to enjoy Clerks II, though the movie is infused with clever references to wide-ranging elements of writer-director Smith's View Askewniverse.

Lifelong friends Dante and Randal (played by Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson) are no longer video store clerks. In a move that's lateral at best, they resort to working at the fast-food joint Mooby's while waiting out Dante's pending move, with his fiancé Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach), from New Jersey to Florida. The life change is complicated by the prospect of the friends separating, as well as by Dante's feelings for Mooby's manager Becky (Rosario Dawson at her most fetching).

It's par for the course that Clerks II is an excuse for Smith's oddball character comedy, inventive profanity, irreverent pop culture arguments, and cameos by celebrity buddies. Smith verbally meanders through "pussy trolls" and "donkey shows," an epic smackdown between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the confusion between Anne Frank and Helen Keller, and why the Transformers aren't blasphemous, among other topics. References to X-Men 2, Batman, C.H.U.D., and Silence of the Lambs flow like water, and Smith gets great mileage not only from the signature characters of Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself), but from a new character, loser and "Funployee of the Month" Elias (Trevor Fehrman).

Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Kevin Weisman (Alias) pass through, and Wanda Sykes and Earthquake spark an uproarious argument over racial slurs. Smith's direction is generally smooth, though he somehow manages to draw attention to his camera whenever he moves it, most notably during a 360° shot during an intense conversation and a crane shot. The latter camera move becomes part of the joke when Dawson's sexy rooftop dance breaks into a humorously random chorus number.

Clerks II makes a surprisingly convincing case for Dante and Randal as characters worthy of a revisit once a decade; perhaps unwittingly, Smith has followed Richard Linklater's example of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, using highly verbal characters as generational mouthpieces. Though the leads' acting hasn't evolved much, the characters remain somehow likeable—perhaps because they're so clearly the two halves of Smith's own personality. The fusty, indecisive Dante feels old and concerned with steps in pursuit of a conventional life, while randy Randal is desperate to keep his arrested development moving as slowly as possible.

Given that one of the film's themes is taking control of one's destiny, it's ironic that Smith not long ago swore off doing any more "Jay and Silent Bob"-world movies. After Jersey Girl, Smith ate his words to put Clerks II into motion, but at least for the moment, he gets the last laugh. Where Jersey Girl failed—at integrating sentiment into the ViewAskewniverse—Clerks II succeeds, without sacrificing Smith's crowd-pleasing raunch. And, after all, who can begrudge a little emotion of a film that includes "interspecies erotica"?

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround

Street date: 2/3/2009

Distributor: Genius Products

Genius Products does a bang-up job bringing Clerks II to Blu-ray. The A/V transfer is unsurprisingly strong given the film's youth: contrast runs perhaps a bit too bright, but otherwise the film looks good, with nice detail and color. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track maximizes what's by design a fairly talky film. Clerks II isn't likely to look or sound better on home video than it does on Blu-ray, at least not anytime soon.

As usual for a Kevin Smith movie, bonus features are plentiful and arguably as much a draw as the film itself. There's a commentary with director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and director of photography David Klein, a second commentary with director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and actors Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes, Brian O'Halloran, and Jennifer Schwalbach, and a third, podcast commentary with director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and actor Jeff Anderson. Anyone who's ever heard Kevin Smith talk knows a good time will be had by all who listen to these tracks. Smith is frank and funny in discussing his work, and he brings out the same qualities in his cohorts.

Disc One also includes an "Introduction by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier" (4:38, HD); "Deleted Scenes Prepared by Kevin Smith" (38:24 with "Play All" option, including intro. by Smith and Mosier, all in HD); "A Closer Look at Interspecies Erotica" (8:57, HD), with "The Sexy Stud" Zak Knutson, Smith and Dawson explaining what went into the donkey show; and an "Easter Egg" (1:09, HD).

Disc Two showcases "Back to the Well: Clerks II" (1:26:58, HD), preceded by an intro. by Smith and Mosier (3:15, HD). The definitive, feature-length making-of doc depicts and discusses rehearsals, production, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez critiquing for Smith an early cut of the film, Cannes, press coverage and the Hollywood premiere, the film's grosses and the filmmaker's higher satisfaction. Participants include Smith, Mewes, Mosier, former Miramax co-head of production Jon Gordon, Schwalbach, O'Halloran, Anderson, Fehrman, Dawson, Wanda Sykes, Earthquake, Klein, Knutson, and 1st assistant editor Elliot Greenberg.

"Clerks II: The Movie Special" (19:33, HD) is a more traditional promo, but still entertaining. Sitting for interviews are Smith, Mosier, Schwalbach, O'Halloran, Anderson, Mewes, Dawson, Fehrman, Knutson, and Klein.

Also on Disc Two are a "Blooper Reel" (29:55 with "Play All" option, including intro. by Smith and Mosier, all in HD), 10 "Train Wrecks Video Production Diaries" (50:47 with "Play All" option, including intro. by Smith and Mosier, all in HD), and the Easter Egg "Hooray for Hollywood" (2:24, HD), a mock-newsreel tour of the production office.

Though some of the HD bonus features are awkwardly cropped to widescreen, this is a fantastic package for Smith fans, another winning collaboration of View Askew and Genius Products.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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