A Movie Nearly Left Behind (Clerks II Review)

Ah, everyone looks…happier?

If you’ve read my review of the original Clerks then you know I’m a pretty big fan. And that I’m especially a big fan of Randal and his existentialist ways as well as the absurdist tempo of the film. There is an excellent spirit of slacking and appreciating the slacker in that film and while Randal is an imperfect model, he gets (ahem) the job done.

Clerks II has some of this. It has the appreciation of slacking, though more through actions and less through philosophical dialogue except for a few notable parts. It seems to celebrate being offensive a lot more than being insightful and even though the original Clerks had that, it never seemed like the main focus to me.

In this movie, which takes place 12 years after the original, Dante and Randal are back in a movie that seems…just a bit odd. It’s updated for the time period it’s taking place in, the nerdy references are there and appropriate but the characters have aged, rather poorly honestly.

Randal has evolved into something of a conscience to Dante into being a thorn in his side. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly a thorn in the side of Dante in the first film (and it only gets worse as time goes on) but the movie perhaps shows all-too realistically what would happen if such a (possibly unhealthy) friendship continued for another 10 years.

Dante is at this point working in a fast food restaurant with Randal for an unspecified amount of time. The convenience store they used to work at was burned down thanks to Randal leaving the coffee maker on overnight. So the film picks up in a slightly new location but with largely the same cast (plus a few new additions like Becky, played by a terrific Rosario Dawson) and still taking place in New Jersey.

The plot is that Dante is about to move to Florida with his girlfriend so they can get married and her parents can (hopefully) gift them a house as a wedding gift. Randal is obviously dealing with this news rather poorly (although doesn’t show it at first) and much of the movie is made up of interactions between the characters as they are (not) working and customers who all just happen to be as weird and nerdy much of the time…imagine that.

To go further than that would spoil much of the movie (though there are a few spoilers below) but just to get it out of the way, the new cast members feel appropriate for the cast and are decent additions. It’s nice that the movie was updated in a generally tolerable way but I’m not sure I can say the same for Randal.

In Clerks, Randal was by far my favorite character. Granted, there was not much competition besides Dante, Jay & Silent Bob, Dante’s girlfriend and a few notable customers. Even so, Randal tended to steal the show and while I can’t say that much is different in this sequel, it’s not necessarily for all of the reasons.

Randal is shown to have become a completely apathetic, misanthropic bully who picks on the handicapped online, says racial slurs, constantly belittles his supposed friends and treats almost everyone like garbage. He even admits later in the movie that, “Who would be friends with me? I hate everyone and everything seems stupid to me.”

This made me sad because, although I can certainly see it as a potential outcome for Randal as a character it’s not one that does it much justice. There is some heart to Randal and a principle to his actions in the original. Randal does legitimately care about other people (mostly himself and Dante) and was more likely to be a dick if someone was to him.

In this movie Randal seems like a mutated version of his past self. I don’t think it ruins the movie and Randal still tends to have the best opinions on life and work (and has the best quotes on those subjects). But that’s also because Clerks II seems to have mostly given up on explicit commentary about work and how much it sucks.

Even the ending seems to be a sort of resignation towards working. If working with your friend, owning your own business and being able to slack off more legitimately is the key to enjoying life, then all I can say is that I disagree.

Although I understand Randal’s sentiment when he remarks,

I got to watch movies fuck with assholes and hang out with my best friend all day, can you think of a better way to make a living? Yeah maybe it wasn’t what everyone does but it was pretty fucking good.

The alienation of capitalism doesn’t end just because we own the means of production (owning a business isn’t necessarily that anyways) and because we work with our friends. I work with a few of my friends at work and although it helps and we can slack off together it’s still rather alienating work. And yes, owning the means of production may make things easier in some ways but in others, capitalism stacks the economic rules against worker-based innovation.

It’s also worth mentioning that just owning your own business under a capitalist system will likely turn you into into a boss to some extent. I can’t imagine that Randal and Dante’s already unhealthy friendship is going to be helped by the ever-increasing pressures of owning a business together.

All of that being said, most of the cast are fine. The acting is tolerable and even pretty good in some scenes and some of the conversations are comical enough. Some of the humor is more interested in outraging or offending the audience then actually engaging with us on any sort of human level, but at least it’s something?

The main plot concerning Dante and his decision to move to Florida and the effect this has on Randal is by far the most human and interesting part of the film. Some of the final scenes of the movie and especially the quotes from Randal are really well-done and speak to his character.

Randal talks about how he centers himself by remembering how it was when the world was in front of him, back when he was a kid and didn’t have a job. He feels as though the world has left him behind a long time ago. But I’m just going to put out there that if you’re a jerk to everyone around you, the world may rightly decide to move on.

Then again, that’s a simplistic analysis as this feeling of isolation and alienation isn’t just reducible to the assholes of the world. And at leas the scenes in which Randal speaks passionately about Dante being a drone and how much he cares for him are lovely scenes with some anti-work themes

Overall, this movie is definitely not as good as the first.

But they almost never are.

It’s still watchable and I’d loosely recommend it.

Just be mindful that there are some provocative scenes including racism, racial slurs, bestiality and homophobia.

This movie hasn’t exactly aged well and it may have been better if Kevin Smith left off where he began.

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4 thoughts on “A Movie Nearly Left Behind (Clerks II Review)

  1. I’ve only ever seen snippets of the first film. For some reason it didn’t manage to grab my attention. I will try them both again at some stage.

    Without having viewed them I can only speculate from what you have said about him; but perhaps the intention of Randal’s downfall from the writer was to show how a life of grinding work can alienate and crush the spirit of a person who had promise. Also perhaps he has become so worn down and lost that he cant see for himself the reason for it, the quote you have picked out from the ending seems to bring this point home. He has ended up loving his slave life, misplacing his feelings as so many in the workplace do.

    • Hey, Hugh. While that’s a nice thought I doubt that was the actual intention of Kevin Smith. I think Smith’s style can be, at times, just unnecessarily offensive or abrasive in an attempt to be humorous.

  2. I think the thing with Randall can be explained with the scene with Jason Lee,a successful guy the same age comes in and shits on him and Dante for still working fast food and they have to resort to childish insults since they have no other comeback. Unfortunately in this work obsessed world,that is how most conversations are going to go for them. So why be nice to other people when they won’t be nice to you because of your perceived lowly position in society?

    • I super get that but also consider him and his interactions with a disabled person online and how he tends to treat Dante and almost anyone, whether they insult him or not. Even the Hobbit Fan was viciously insulted pretty promptly.

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