Clerks review by Matt Fuerst


While I don't feel very sorry for the members of it, the media industry is a very difficult one. With every channel, Television, Film, Books, the amount produced is overwhelming to an individual. Even if you choose a genre within a specific channel and worked on it full time, you could never taken in the entirety of body of work. In the end, this means that the mass produced, mass marketed product will likely rise to the top and see the most eyeballs. How many among us have read a John Grisham book while passing over that independently produced collection of short stories from a struggling author like Chris Ringler?

But all is not to despair. The break-thrus do happen, and when they do they make their mark upon our society. Most Kevin Smith fanboys know the story of Mr. Smith selling his comic collection to finance the production of his independent film, Clerks. This story of sacrifice is likely something that all struggling artists are familiar with. Working by yourself, for yourself, for the most part, doesn't pay too well. But sometimes, the story must be told. Thankfully, with the high level of success of Clerks Kevin Smith was able to go back and reclaim his comic collection, date some pretty hot chicks, make a very tidy sum of money, and become a phat cat in the place where the streets are lined with big-chested women and seven digit contracts, Hollywood (Jackass sidenote: it was originally called just Holly, but they threw the wood in there for a reason, if you get my drift). Basically, he is livin' the life that every loser that starts his own movie review web site and daydreams of being a Hollywood phat cat wants for themselves.

So, let's take a moment and look upon this film here in retrospect, 9 years after it's release. Our story today revolves around Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran). Dante is a young man, being at 22 years on the Christian calendar. Bucking the white-middle-class trend, he chose to skip the collegiate route and finds himself working in the local convenience store at the same time that his peers are graduating from their college experiences and moving into the world to start their careers. Dante is called in on a Saturday to work, in spite of it being his day off. His only condition is to be relieved by high noon so he can make his rec hockey game. As often happens when we volunteer and offer to be nice, things start going wrong for poor Dante. Some savage from around town stuck gum in the locks of the shutters, so Dante can't open them (a convenient way to film during the closed hours of the convenience store that Kevin Smith arranged to use). Dante finds out his ex-girlfriend he still pines for is getting married (to an Asian Design Major), his current girlfriend has been a little more liberal with favors than he had hoped, the neighborhood pot dealers have set up shop outside his store, and then there's the constant stream of customers. Irritating, idiotic, conniving, demanding. Basically, customers.

Along with Dante for the ride is Randal (Jeff Anderson), the clerk at the video shop next door that tries to buck all the rules. Randal is around for many reasons in the context of Clerks. Dante, for the most part, is the straight man, so Randal comes in as the comic relief. In addition he is doesn't take much gruff from the customers, giving even polite ones some serious attitude. If Kevin Smith were an artier fellow, he would have ended the movie by showing that Dante and Randal were in fact the same person, just the two distinct personalities of one entity. Luckily we get to duck that cheese in the film but I am here laying it on thick.

No matter how much witty dialogue you stuff in, jockeying a counter at a convenience store isn't going to cut it for a story, so along some plot elements are formed. Dante's current girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) stops by and encourages Dante to go back to school. Dante learns a former high schooler he tapped died, so he closes the store to go to her wake. Left alone at the store all day, Dante always uses his executive power to close the store for some rec hockey on the roof. Dante's ex-girlfriend swings by and tells Dante that she wants to give it another shot with him, which Dante eagerly agrees to.

In the end, this is a story revolving around Dante, whose main character trait is his reluctance for change. While I would expect something like that to really strike home with me (I mull for days the change of cereal flavors) unfortunately, it misses the mark. Dante is such a whiny bitch that it's distracting and next to impossible to gather up any emotions towards his character. For the Randal character to really balance him out, Randal has to go so over the top in his actions that he ends up oft-times being unlikable himself. Randal spits in a customers face for no reason, sells cigarettes to a 4 year old, and violates a dead body.

What the movie does have is great dialogue, and great interaction between characters. Debates over the General Laborers aboard the Death Star II, Dante's introduction to the world of snowballing (ask you mom, kids), Hermaphroditic porn, a human lung sitting on a counter. I imagine an elderly couple picking up Clerks as the second film in their local video rental shops Two-for-Tuesday bonanza having quite a shock at the content. The problem is that, I can guarantee you, at some point you are going to look at your watch. At that point, the movie has lost you. All the wittiness stretches itself a bit thin and you end up wondering what you are going to have for lunch tomorrow. It happened for me at the 53 minute mark, and I decided upon Chunky Beef and Potato soup and some chips and salsa.

Looking back at some reviews from 1994, it's interesting to look at the bonanza of praise that was heaped upon it. Ebert gave a very generous 3 star review. Bernardinelli gave it 3 1/2 stars out of 4. Nerds flocked from the wood work to heap praise, and even today (2003) the film is extremely generously ranked as #221 in the IMDB's top 250 of all time. That's pretty ridiculous considering this isn't even Kevin Smith's best film (which I would say is Mallrats as I duck for cover). I'm glad Kevin Smith made this movie, I am glad he is still making great movies. He really fills a niche that needed it, nerdy types of my generation really appreciate the topics and style of his film. For many people, this was an introduction to the idea that movie existed outside the overhyped film in the main theatre of their local cineplex, which is a great contribution to fans of film.

The Clerks DVD release is a really enjoyable one. While it seems like a straight transfer from the Laserdisc edition, it has quite a few goodies. The audio commentary by Kevin Smith and company is consistently rated one of the most entertaining available on the DVD medium. We are also presented with a handful of deleted scenes and the original ending for the film (righteously edited out as Kevin Smith himself admits). The original theatrical trailer is present along with some helpful movie recommendations (not). The best part is that this is a very widely available DVD and generally very inexpensive. I picked up my copy for about $11 or so. If you are a Kevin Smith fan (I am 2 movies shy of completing my collection) or like independent, dialogue driven comedy, you won't be disappointed, just skip the rental and pick it up for keeps.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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