Dante and Randal, those acerbic convenience-store employees harboring venomous hatred toward "milk maids," return in full color for Clerks II, writer-director Kevin Smith's funny, vulgar, sometimes sappy sequel to his 1994 debut. While the film isn't nearly his best, it's undeniable fun to see the clerks ranting again, rattling off the kind of raunchy, spot-on observations that only Smith could think up.
It's 12 years later, and Dante (Brian O'Halloran) is still reporting to work at the Quick Stop. The first scene, in black and white, invokes the look of the original film, until Dante rolls up the door to discover the place is on fire in full color. He and buddy Randal (Jeff Anderson) wind up working at Mooby's (Smith's take on McDonald's), continuing their streak of dead-end jobs. Yes, they're flipping burgers, but there's hope for Dante, as he plans to marry Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) and beat a retreat to Florida.
Except for the opening, the film takes place in one day, as did the original. Tops on the menu are pop culture and sex talk, two topics where Smith has always displayed stunning aptitude (especially in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). When Randal is savaging customers for their love of Lord of the Rings over Star Wars, or trashing a co-worker for his belief in pussy trolls (the funniest scene in the movie), the movie feels right at home.
Where it stumbles a bit is in a subplot involving Dante and manager Becky (the always great Rosario Dawson). Dante, to put it simply, has been misbehaving with upper management, and this could complicate wedding plans. As likable a comic (or better put, whining) actor O'Halloran can be, he just doesn't have the looks or acting chops to pull off romantic-lead status. Smith's screenplay even acknowledges the hilarity of someone who looks like Dante getting with Becky and Emma. Randal marvels at how such an "ugly chud" always has two girls fighting over him.
It's not just that O'Halloran isn't a matinee idol. His character is, and always has been, rather irritating and sad. (He has a come-hither, "I wuv you!" stare he uses on his women that induces nausea.) The scenes between Dante and his women are the sort of goofy, overly sentimental filmmaking that marred Smith's most recent film, the well-meaning but too-saccharine Jersey Girl. They tend to slow the momentum of the picture.
On the other hand, Randal's reactions to Dante's girl problems are priceless. Whether he's interrupting Dante painting Becky's nails in the manager's office or disrupting a swing-set make-out session, Anderson is flat-out hilarious. In fact, this is pretty much Anderson's film. The movie's biggest laughs seem to always have him at the center. Anderson even gets a chance to emote when he (in a rather touching scene) reveals his true feelings for Dante near the film's end.
There are a couple of fun cameos featuring the likes of Jason Lee and Ben Affleck. Relative newcomer Trevor Fehrman is great as Randal's co-worker and nemesis, a virginal bonehead obsessing over The Transformers and hobbits. Thankfully, Jay and Silent Bob (newly rehabbed Jason Mewes and Smith himself) make a triumphant return, loitering in front of Mooby's and re-creating a few too many moments from The Silence of the Lambs. They spend most of their time dancing (at one point, actually getting a crane shot during a grandly choreographed dance number).
The laughs are too frequent to allow the mediocre parts to overwhelm the film. Smith has made a sequel worthy of the original, and another movie of these guys 10 years down the road would be a blast. It's nice to see Smith operating within his universe again.