Ten years later, the slacker characters made famous by writer/director/actor Kevin Smith’s unlikely cult hit Clerks are still slacking. When a fire finally forces Quick Stop manager Dante Hicks and RST Video clerk Randal Graves, now both in their thirties, out of their dead-end jobs, they assume similar roles at a Mooby’s fast-food restaurant. Clerks II follows them through a single day, Dante’s last before moving to Florida with his fiancée.
As in the first film, the plot consists mostly of the duo’s profane conversations with a collection of oddball characters about everything from the differences between Anne Frank and Helen Keller, to a debate over the quality of the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings sagas, to whether sex should ever include anal/oral contact (I wasn’t kidding about the profane part).
Said oddballs include Becky, the restaurant’s equally foul-mouthed manager who likes to have Dante paint her toenails; Elias, a loopy “Christian” kid abused by Randal for his wacky beliefs and kooky fanboy gentleness; and Dante’s fiancée, Emma. Also back are Jay and Silent Bob, the drugged-out, drug-dealing duo who “hang out” in most of Smith’s films. Here, they’ve sobered up after six months of forced rehab, but they’re still happily distributing narcotics and spewing vile dialogue when the other characters need to take a breather.
The film’s final act hinges on two questions: Will Dante appreciate Randal’s going-away gift of hiring an “erotic performer” for their last party? And will Randal decide that growing up means getting a “real life” in Florida or pursuing his own, hard-to-pin-down ambitions in his New Jersey hometown?
I’m thinking. I’m thinking … um, none.
Smith has a well-documented, unconventional relationship with the idea of God. He seems to believe in God, while also feeling compelled to relentlessly mock any notion of traditional or conservative Christianity. His film Dogma told a blasphemous tale in which two runaway angels try to destroy humanity, forcing the “13th apostle,” a female descendant of Jesus’ line and God (also female) to step in and save the day.
In Clerks II the newly sober Jay wears a “Got Christ?” T-shirt and claims (between f-bombs) that he and his partner “found Jesus” in rehab. Silent Bob produces a Bible as evidence that the “power of Christ” is enabling them to stay on the wagon and avoid the temptation of the drugs they’re dealing. However, their supposed faith is never again mentioned or offered as a reason for avoiding any of their other illicit activities.
Randal challenges young Elias’ fandom of the Transformers animated series because he’s all “Christian and s—.” Elias quotes his pastor as saying at “Bible camp” that Transformers is OK, though other mythological animated series are not. To mess with Elias, Randal disputes that idea while describing the biblical idea of the gospel in some detail. Then Randal and Jay freak Elias out, claiming that the show is really inspired by “dark forces.”
After the slackers get Elias high and include him in the audience for a sex show, we see a head-and-shoulders shot of Elias masturbating, crying and saying, “Forgive me, Jesus.” Later, we see Elias in his WWJD underwear.
While discussing why the Quick Stop burned down, Dante insists to Randal that “the Lord smited that hellhole.”
It would be impossible (and pointless) to fully detail here the endless crude sexual dialogue and content in Clerks II. Conversations throughout the film include multiple, extremely obscene slang words for both the male and female anatomy and all manner of sexual activities, including anal sex, oral sex, homosexuality and bestiality. The word “c–k” seems to be a favorite of Smith, used in discussions of sex, insults about homosexuality and one crude drawing. One of the movie’s recurring themes involves whether it’s ever OK to “go a– to mouth,” a subject that comes up when the 33-year-old Randal is describing how ready 17-year-old girls are these days to engage in all manner of sexual activity.
Jay shows his bare backside through the restaurant window for an extended shot. The camera also glimpses him mostly nude from the front. A man and woman make out on a swing set; she mentions his arousal. A woman is seen in a revealing bra. Elias describes to Randal why he has not yet had sex with his girlfriend, a clearly parent-invented story involving a troll in her vagina that would harm him if he did so before she was 21. In dismissing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Randal uses very graphic language to describe an imagined homosexual encounter between Frodo and Sam (prompting a customer to vomit). The cow-themed Mooby’s restaurant features slogans and signage with crude sexual double-meanings.
Randal’s idea of the perfect going-away present for Dante is to host a “sex show” at the restaurant involving a woman hired to give oral sex to a donkey. At first disgusted, Elias becomes fascinated. When the woman turns out to be a fat man in leather chaps, the camera witnesses a nauseatingly large amount of the show, including his mostly nude backside, the man grabbing his own small leather underwear, the wiping of his lips and shoulders-up movement as he has anal sex with the donkey. Superlatively perverse stuff. Later, this “performer” complains about conservatives who might have a problem with his proclivities.
One character throws a punch at another and misses, hurting his hand.
About 150 f-words and more than 30 s-words are heard, as are 15 or so abuses of the names of Jesus and God. As mentioned above, all manner of obscene slang is used repeatedly for the male and female anatomy in pervasive conversations about sexual activity. Milder profanities also abound.
Jay and Silent Bob sell drugs and get Elias high, though they never use the drugs themselves. (We also never see anyone using, only the aftereffects.)
Not wanting to leave any market segment without the opportunity for offense, Randal repeatedly uses the phrase “porch monkey” in front of a group of black customers, claiming not to realize it is a racial slur. He rattles off a long list of crude and offensive racial slurs to show he knows some, then states his plan to redeem “porch monkey” as a nonracial slur to refer to general nonethnic laziness. To that end, we see the phrase spelled out on the back of his shirt throughout the rest of the film.
A man is seen on the toilet. Two other men are glimpsed from behind while urinating.
I’ve often wondered over the years just exactly who finds amusing the vulgar and profane messages and drawings carved into men’s bathroom stalls at highway truck stops. Now I have an idea. And that setting seems about right to capture the spirit of Clerks II as well. I definitely left the theater feeling the need to wash my hands.
I know Smith has garnered something of a fan base for his uneven film output over the last decade or so since the low-budget Clerks put him on the map. And, yes, I know I’m not in that target audience. I even realize that those fans may find here plenty of the material that worked for them in the past. I’m OK with the fact that I just don’t get the appeal of this relentlessly crude, blasphemous, degrading experience. What surprises me, though, is just how many people do get it—and love it.
All the talk about Smith’s ability to capture the slacker zeitgeist of my generation with the original Clerks was one thing. It was a movie about 23-year-olds with no direction, ambition or sense of their place in the universe. And some will trumpet Clerks II as tracking their baby steps toward “growing up.” But even with a sappy love story tacked on, that’s not enough to make sitting through this onslaught of middle-aged depravity a good time.
Smith himself is apparently surprised his story was able to grab an R rating instead of a box office-killing NC-17. It’s not that there’s so much nudity or violence. The film manages to be inappropriate for mature audiences based purely on hard-core dialogue, subject matter and, well, scenes of bestiality. As the director boasted to mtv.com, “Clerks was a movie that the MPAA gave an NC-17 for language and content alone. This movie ups the ante by a hundredfold, and there’s just no way it gets an R.”
Well, it did get an R. And the film is getting mainstream exposure around the globe, including a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s also propelled Smith onto The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for a recurring gig. Still, I wonder how many moviegoers (even Hollywood-hardened ones) will see Clerks II and walk out shocked at what now passes for mainstream American entertainment. I know I did.