Awfully forward, with donkeys

Clerks II

Religious fundamentalist director Kevin Smith, right, helps actor Jason Mewes find his motivation in the word of our Lord.

Religious fundamentalist director Kevin Smith, right, helps actor Jason Mewes find his motivation in the word of our Lord.

Rated 4.0

In a summer of ambitious blockbusters that are just pretty good, it’s nice to see a film that merely aims to make you laugh for a couple hours and delivers. Set 10 years after the low-budget, black-and-white cult classic that kicked off Kevin Smith’s filmmaking career, the full-color, bigger-and-bolder sequel to Clerks admirably remains true to the original, while adding some heart and some dimension to the characters as well. It’s raunchy as hell, but underneath all the dick jokes and donkey-sex gags, there’s a surprisingly charming soul. It reflects the character-development and storytelling maturity Smith has gained since his debut.

Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson are back as über-slackers Dante and Randal, who ponder their aimless existence as employees of the town burger joint after a coffee-pot fire destroys their former haunt, the convenience store. Dante is about to marry a rich girl who ignored him in high school, and he’s ready to move to Florida to run a car-wash business that’s financed by his fiancée’s father. His future is something he’s more resigned to than excited about. I found O’Halloran’s performance to be a bit forced in the early stages of the film, but his amateurish acting style actually makes his character more realistic and believable as he progresses through the story.

Sad to see him go, Dante’s best pal plans the ultimate bachelor party as a goodbye present. Randal is the film’s standout character, who’s every bit as obnoxious and insightful as he was the first time around. Listening to him muse about wheelchair-bound bloggers, ass-to-mouth sex and the racist potential of the term “porch monkey,” among other things, is mind-blowingly offensive and hilarious at the same time. If Lenny Bruce and Sarah Silverman had a lovechild, who grew up studying the ways of Leave it to Beaver’s Eddie Haskell, that would be Anderson’s Randal.

Further complicating Dante’s wedding plans is the unspoken love he shares with the store manager, Becky, who’s played by the underrated knockout Rosario Dawson. At first, the chemistry between the two seems too unlikely to be believed, but they pull it off nicely, and you really root for Dante to make the right choice.

Dawson is both dorky and gorgeous throughout, and a sequence in which Becky teaches Dante how to dance is one of the most awkwardly sexy movie scenes since Jamie Lee Curtis’ strip tease in True Lies.

Trevor Fehrman as the socially retarded Elias, who loves Transformers robot toys almost as much as Jesus, is a great addition to the Clerksverse. Watching him spar with Randal over whether or not The Lord of the Rings is better than the Star Wars trilogy is a geeky train wreck of guilty pleasure that you don’t want to end. The whole movie is well-stocked with on-the-money analytical pop-culture-themed conversations that you’ll want to quote to your friends long after you see it.

Returning as Jay and Silent Bob, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith provide a steady source of laughs by performing a great song-and-dance number to the Jackson Five’s “ABC” and a disturbing tribute to The Silence of the Lambs that you’ll not soon erase from your memory.

Near the film’s end, another standout moment occurs between Randal and Dante that’s about as touching a proclamation of male friendship as you’ll ever see—even despite its being set in a jail cell, with a hyper Mewes screaming “Cage Match!” as he hangs from the bars.

Ultimately, if you loved the first installment, you’ll love this one as well. The reported 10-minute standing ovation Clerks II received at its Cannes premiere won’t likely be duplicated here, but if your filmgoing experience is anything like mine, you may want to see it twice to pick up the jokes you couldn’t hear in between all the laughter.