There was once a thirty-something little bird named Dante (Brian O’Halloran) who never got around to flying south for the winter, although he always assumed that it was expected of him. When winter set in, his wings became too icy to fly, trapping him in New Jersey; to make matters worse, a cow named Randal (Jeff Anderson) took a dump on the little bird. Then, to the bird’s surprise, the manure warmed his little wings and made him happy enough to sing. Finally, a cat named Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith) came when she heard the happy song and cleared away the manure to free little bird, thus making it easier to drag him off to Florida and slowly devour him.
Believe it or not, that’s the actual plot of Kevin Smith’s sixth film (and, technically, his first-ever actual sequel), Clerks II. Yes, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith himself) are back along with newcomers Trevor Fehrman (as Elias, Randal’s new co-worker/victim) and Rosario Dawson (as the manager of the local Mooby’s restaurant where our once-twenty-something now-thirty-something heroes have ended up). A virtual cavalcade (does anyone even know what that is anymore?) of guest stars also appear throughout the film (mostly as restaurant customers) while Mr. Smith adds additional fun bits lifted from films such as The Blues Brothers, Silence of the Lambs, and Bachelor Party when he’s not writing dialogue for characters verbally dueling about what film franchises wear for better or for worse.
Then there are the differences, since there would be no Clerks II without Clerks. Smith’s maturity as a filmmaker still remains tarnished by insisting upon keeping one foot firmly planted in “all that is offensive and must be brought to light,” but as a visual storyteller with five previous films in varying degrees of budget and success, it’s easy to tell he’s no longer the same guy who maxed out all his credit cards and shot a black & white film about two counter jockeys going nowhere fast. The best story he can tell and the best way of telling it have become as important to Kevin Smith as the script he begins with, and no amount of racial slurs or bestiality can tarnish the obvious maturity and spit shine that the finished film still exudes, soundtrack included. Once you’ve learned how to do everything well, it must have felt wrong to go back and try to make experience look like innocence again.
Then again, maybe that was never Smith’s goal at all. Clerks II works on as many levels as Dante has personal Hells and still revolves around the age-old question “What am I supposed to do when I grow up?” being asked by more of today’s grown-ups than ever before. How some of the content got past the MPAA with a mere R-rating either reeks of Weinstein money or a kindler, gentler MPAA who’s still feeling pistol-whipped by Matt Stone and Trey Parker for Team America: World Police. Fans young, old, and ten thousand strong on MySpace (yes, they’re listed after the credits) will get every penny’s worth they paid for when seeing Smith’s latest.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering about the little bird reference, keep three things in mind. First, someone who shits on you isn’t necessarily your enemy. Second, someone who gets you out of a shitty situation isn’t necessarily your friend. And most importantly, if you’re warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)