Friday, November 25, 2005

Trapped In The Well

Yes, Ryan, Clerks 2 is sad.

I used to like and respect Kevin Smith. I lamented the quick death of the Clerks cartoon. When I brought up the Clerks short "The Flying Car" that Smith made for the Tonight Show, and someone said, "He went back to that well again, huh?" I felt a little hurt on Smith's behalf. I even thought I enjoyed Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, although further viewing cured me of that fantasy.

Kevin Smith has bought into the overzealous fanboy worship that enshrines every word he writes, every gag he conceives, whether it's worthy or not. The merchandise and self-love, the cameos from Joey to Veronica Mars to Degrassi, the speaking tours and DVD anniversary edition re-release expanded editions of DVDs that were overstuffed with redundant material to begin with, they are all out of control. Fanboys, please. Don't be enablers. Just because he likes comics does not make him your god. Smith at this point has spent more hours talking about his work than he did creating it.

Hindsight has not been kind to Smith's work. At the time, it all seemed so clever, because Smith was smarter than his material. He may have been writing about blow jobs and stink palms, but we sensed an intelligence behind it with fresh perspectives and funny ideas. But it was all shallower than it appeared. As time passed, Smith indulged more and more in his trademarks, without the cleverness that had initially supported them. So we have lame cheap-shock single-entendres like Rug Munchers or Movie Poop Shoot, and drawn-out speeches that were wordy without actually articulating anything. Add to this uncomfortable, tone-deaf gags, like Will Ferrell killing an actor in a Mooby costume, or lazy, witless idiocy like a close-up of Jay's bare ass farting. Yes, it was a toss-off dick and fart joke movie, but it wouldn't have happened if Smith weren't so eager to pander to his rabid fan base.

The saddest part, though, was that Smith meant for J&SBSB to be a kiss-off to his earlier work, ushering in a new age of mature filmmaking. He took one bold leap into the abyss, Jersey Girl tanked, and he went racing back to his comfort zone. Dude, movies fail. It happens all the time. Try another one. This doesn't mean you have to run home crying to Mommy. It's not even your fault, really, except that your not-secret man-crush on Affleck blinds you to the fact that he's not much of an actor and people don't like him anymore.

So my biggest beef with Smith is that he's afraid to grow. He takes failures personally. He took Mallrats personally too, until the fans salvaged it, and now he lords it over critics as a masterpiece. It's not awful, but it's not brilliant, either, except for the casting of Jason Lee. Now he's allowed the failure of Jersey Girl to derail his intended, and long-overdue growth as an artist. It's one thing to try a serious movie and then do a funny movie. It's another to make a movie that explicitly (and pretentiously) closes the book on the precious "Askewniverse," only to open it up again one failure later.

Granted, people make mistakes. Maybe Smith has decided the Askewniverse is what his fans love and want, and it's what he's good at, so who is he to deny them that? Well, okay, fine. But it makes him a stagnant artist who prefers to revel in self-love rather than take chances, and I don't have to respect that.

So, Clerks 2. Let's break it down.

The Title: The Passion of the Clerks. Is that supposed to be shocking? Does that make it controversial and relevant? Is it supposed to raise Catholic ire, like Dogma? Because, well, it doesn't. It's kind of passe and unfunny, a joke that's dead on arrival. And it will only feel more stale by the time it's released. What's more, what does it have to do with the movie? We're not dealing with a Passion parody here, so why bother with a parodic title? That said, it's no worse than the previous title, Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin'.

The Tired Self-Deprecation: The Clerks 2 website announces "TRAIN WRECK! ...a disaster in the making." Here is Smith falling back on insincere self-deprecation to deflect criticism that he is going back to the well and making a huge mistake. Okay, but just because you put yourself down jokingly doesn't mean the put-downs aren't true. Besides, one of the most aggravating things about Smith is the fact that for all his self-deprecation, he can't stand actual criticism. See the storyline, and especially the ending, of J&SBSB. He takes Internet bashing seriously and personally--as seriously as he takes all the fans who fall over themselves to jerk him off.

The Story: One reason I never wanted a Clerks sequel even when I was a Smith fan was that to see those guys working in a convenience store ten years later would be incredibly depressing and an invalidation of the growth Dante had supposedly experienced by the end of the first film. I felt a bit of this when they were still there in J&SBSB. Based on the photos from the Clerks 2 site, the sequel finds them working at a Mooby's. I give Smith credit for not staging another entire movie in a convenience store--that was a good choice--but it's still sad.

In order for the sequel to be any good at all, it will have to be about something. Given the fact that the characters are still stuck in dead-end jobs, and given the fact that we can expect the themes to resonate with Smith himself, my guess is that it will be about failing to move on because one is afraid to move out of one's comfort zone and risk failure. Great, except the first Clerks was already about that. Smith hasn't even learned the lesson of his first movie. And so he's repeating it.

The Askewniverse Continuity: I never liked Mooby's. It was funny in Dogma when it was a parody of Disney, but Disney doesn't have a chain of fast-food restaurants, so the joke no longer makes any sense to me. There is no reason for Mooby's to be a burger franchise except for Smith to convince himself that creating Mooby was so funny that he should use it over and over again. This dick joke is stupid.

The Cast: Look at this picture. Jason Mewes looks like he should be in prison. If it weren't for Smith, he probably would be. This is downright scary. He is too old for this. At least don't have him make the hardass convict face because he sells it too well. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson should be playing young dads by now. There's nothing wrong with seeing them in another movie together. But imagine a Clerks sequel in which they really had moved on in life, and didn't look ridiculously out of place. Now that would be something.


Sarah said...

This makes me sad, too.

Steve said...

The best thing I can say about Kevin Smith is that he doesn't have *quite* as disfunctional a relationship with his fanbois as Joss Whedon.

Actually, now that I think about it, that's not so much the best thing I can say about Kevin Smith as the worst thing I can say about Joss Whedon.