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REVIEW: Clerks

I’ve spent most of my life being the kind of guy who avoids seeing Clerks and other movies set in the View Askewniverse. I never found profanity itself amusing. If profanity is expected to make me laugh, then it should have something done with it. It can either be who’s doing the swearing, as in Kick-Ass, what context the swearing is in, like the works of Quentin Tarantino, or just sheer volume, as in Snatch. Swearing itself has never been funny to me–it’s just a part of language. Can you tell that I watched a lot of George Carlin growing up?

I finally saw Clerks the other day. It turns out that between the parts of the movie that have been quoted to death and beyond by everyone I’ve ever met, there’s actually a really good movie about growing a pair and taking charge of your life. I never knew. The guys aren’t swearing for the sake of swearing, they curse just like regular people do–to buy time to think of the rest of what you want to say. And it’s no wonder this movie has so much cursing, it has so little action as to be almost entirely static. Although, I’m going a little rough on Clerks. It has as much action as Reservoir Dogs–well, not as much, but only two or three scenes less.

The movie tells the story of Dante “I wasn’t supposed to be here today!” Hicks (Brian O’ Halloran). He’s called to open the convenience store where he works the day after he closed it. It’s his day off. He’s going to mention that a lot. Working next door to him in a cheap video store is his friend Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson). Dante’s philosophy in life and toward his job is to put up with any misery that comes his way by doing his best job at dealing with it and moving on from that. The moving on process involves a lot of whining. Dante avoids the most amount of pain for the least effort he can expend.

Randal Graves espouses another philosophy. He seeks the most amount of pleasure for the least amount of effort he can expend. As such, he’s an unpleasant man to be around if you aren’t a friend of his, and even then he’s not exactly easy to get along with. His hobbies include trolling customers, trolling customers, trolling old classmates, trolling his best friend and watching interesting varieties of porn, in his best friends store. Ironically enough, Randal comes off as the smarter of the pair, if only because he spends less time complaining about his lot in life and more time seeking out fun in all of its darkest incarnations. Also ironically, of the two, he’s the one dispensing advice to Dante throughout the film.

The movie is little but conversations, which leaves me struggling to find things to say about it that hasn’t already been said. The reason I carefully said View Askewniverse movies in the first paragraph and not Kevin Smith movies is that I have seen one Kevin Smith movie before. I saw Zack & Miri Make a Porno when it came out in theaters with my girlfriend. Let me tell you, that was awkward dinner table conversation with her geriatric grandma. Thus is the source of most of the humour in Clerks. The guys do and say obscene things around regular people. This is actually pretty funny in the hands of someone who finds the very concept amusing. Kevin Smith, devout Catholic, combines misbehaving low-level employees and everything from eggs to corpses in the course of a day. The number of dicks Dante’s girlfriend has sucked is a plot point. It’s 37. I’m with early-morning enraged Dante–by anybody’s standard, that’s a lot. Hell, the 12 girls perpetual loser Dante has laid seems miniscule in comparison. Of course, in comparison with his whiny, mopey and malcontent personality, it’s a wonder he has a girlfriend at all.

I should probably get to my biggest beef with this movie. The acting is terrible. I don’t mean poor. I don’t mean kinda slipshod. I don’t mean well-intentioned, but lacking in experience. I mean honest-to-god, without any merit whatsoever, every person in every role is terrible. The best actor on set is the director, Kevin Smith as a character named Silent Bob. Seriously, Gromit is perpetually out-performing everyone in the cast while he’s also written their lines and is telling them their blocking. Among the things that perpetually amaze me with this movie are the number of long takes. Two people are in a shot for over three minutes at a time, just talking. I’m glad they memorized their lines, but you think they could’ve put some emotion in.

Worst offender is Brian O’ Halloran as Dante Hicks. He’s the main character, he has all the emotional peaks of the movie, he has the conflict between his girlfriend Veronica and the girl he wants to be with who wants to be with everybody, Caitlin. He has to choose between working a dead-end job at a convenience store that he isn’t even supposed to be at today and going back to college with Veronica. The character is whiny. The actor is wooden as Keanu Ree–no. No, wait. That’s an insult to Keanu Reeves. He remembers his lines perfectly. That’s a compliment.

Jeff Anderson is almost as bad, but he at least visibly enjoys his role. He’s the guy listing porno’s in front of a three year old. Randal Graves is fun and Jeff Anderson has fun letting loose in front of a camera. He’s still wooden, but at least you’re laughing with him.

The other main fault of the film is the dialogue. Sure, it’s profane, but Smith has a hard time avoiding all those big fancy words that float around his rather intelligent brain. As a result, these college drop outs watching hermaphrodite porn and discussing snowballing all sound like they hang around libraries for fun. It’s weird.

And yet, in all of this is a movie I actually kinda like. Sure, the dialogue is terrible, the acting is wooden, the low budget is visible on camera, but who cares? It’s a movie about having fun with what you have, and it does that well. It’s not perfect. It’s much less than perfect. But I’m glad I saw it. THREE STARS

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