If it ain'tbroke, milk it, as they say in
So why did New Jersey homeboyKevin Smith wait all of 12 years before returning to the successfulsmall-town-buddies formula of his cult debut, Clerks'
True, Smith has done stridentvariations on the theme - Mallrats -and lame spin-offs - Jay and Silent BobStrike Back(JSBSB).
But this is the first timethat he's summoned his high-school friends Brian O'Halloranand Jeff Anderson back for a rematch as eternal clerks Dante Hicks and RandalGraves.
The result sometimes feelslike an extended sitcom episode - but it's a funny, fast-paced, risque sitcom with some great one-liners.
Unprudish slacker and post-slackeraudiences will lap this up, though only diehard Smith fans will buy the(thankfully brief) doses of sentimental you're-my-buddy schmaltz.
A surprise R rating (Smithwas apparently braced for another NC-17 repeal battle) will help Clerks II toequal and perhaps top the $30m domestic takings of the director's top grossers, JSBSBand Dogma; and auxiliary sales shouldbe buoyant.
Smith's films generally doonly modestly in non-English-speaking territories overseas, if they get seen atall.
But Clerks II has enough standalone panache to overcome the lack of aserious fan base abroad and achieve at least comic curio status.
The opening scene switchesneatly between blackand white - a nostalgic homage to the original Clerks - and colour, as an older, paunchier Dante turns up foranother day at the Quick Stop grocery store, only to discover that the place isburning down.
Responsible Dante and hissardonic, foul-mouthed, live-by-the-day buddy Randall are forced to take jobsat Mooby's, a fast-food chain based on a golden calfcharacter that is one of the recurring motifs in Smith's comic Sim City (a world known as the Viewaskewniverse, after his View Askew production company).
Dante now has a glamorousbut domineering girlfriend, Emma (played by the director's wife Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) with whom he is about to moveto
But he's clearly far more intune with his sexy branch manager Becky (a feisty Rosario Dawson): the twoengage in some wistful, last-chance flirtation that veers between tender andgooey. Outside the store, stoner drug dealers Jay (Jason Mewes)and Silent Bob (Smith himself), lounge around once more, unchanged after rehabexcept for a touch of born-again Christianity.
In fan-service comedyfranchises like this, just being seen is half the battle: hence the cameos bySmith regulars Ben Affleck and Jason Lee.
So muchfor the plot.The core business of this film (which was originally to have been called The Passion Of The Clerks)is to keep the laughs coming, and the badinage here is as good as anythingSmith has written.
PC orthodoxies are sniped atin the extended 'porch monkey' and Anne Frank gags, there's a running series ofLord Of The Rings jokes ("threemovies, and it was people walking to afucking volcano"), and the gross-out sexual skits include a climactic donkeyshow whose frank display of "inter-species erotica" out-porksPorky's.
But however smutty it gets,the humour is grounded in character and the dead-end tedium of smalltown
The look of the thing is televisual, and so is much of the acting; only a sensuous,screen-hogging
James L Venable