Arts + Culture » Film + TV

Clerks II

Mark Palermo with hits and misses that might surprise.

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Clerks was about the person Kevin Smith was, and its sequel is about who he could have been. Picking up on the 20-somethings of 1994’s Clerks 12 years later, Smith views dissatisfaction in life as something that’s socially imposed. The fear of growing up is for many a fear of losing one’s identity.

It’s conversely Smith’s fear of progressing as a storyteller that makes Clerks II, despite its good heart, feel old hat. Its 1994 predecessor, Smith’s $25,000 black-and-white debut, struck me as a revelation then. It was novel to hear directors like Smith and Tarantino have their characters discussing other movies. The Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars debate in Clerks II now just plays as a desperate reach for hipness. That movie’s grungy aesthetic perfectly befit its guerilla attitude. Working with more money, the sequel opts for a low-rent visual style. But the flat compositions make it Smith’s ugliest since Chasing Amy. It’s tonally his most sanctimonious as well.

The various musical montages—including a treacly bit where new fast food workers Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) project their friendship through go-karting—just serve as filler. Only a montage about aging set to The Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” has emotional impact, and its nostalgia’s tied more to how the Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was like a bible for high schoolers 10 years ago than to anything Smith’s characters’ pull off.

Thing is, for every solid laugh (and Clerks II has its share), there comes a point with Smith where you can guess the outcome of every joke. Although Smith began including other ethnicities in his films after Mallrats, they remain a Hollywood-saturated white boy’s take on slacker-entitlement. He has one of the most insular worldviews of any popular filmmaker.

Clerks II’s sound look at stunted growth doesn’t get around that these personalities are less likeable in their 30s than their 20s. Fans of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back may be disappointed that Smith’s pop-influenced perception of the outside world has regressed to its starting point.

Lady in the Water

Comparisons of Lady in the Water to a bedtime story appropriately describe its “What happened next?” logic. M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie since Unbreakable is being received with the petty scorn that greeted Oliver Stone’s Alexander. Shyamalan hands critics their ammunition: Casting himself as Christ in his own movie is asking for trouble, as is making the least likable character a film critic. But these elements serve Shyamalan’s meta-narrative. Characters find their place in the telling of a story. Creation also mandates human connection, starting as lonely apartment superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) discovers a mysterious woman (identified as a “Narf” and played by Bryce Dallas Howard) in his swimming pool. She’s crossed over to Heep’s world, and a vicious grass-covered dog tries to keep her back in her place. Shyamalan introduces these incidentals in his typical banal-world framework. It makes for his strangest work, but also his least cynical. As the tenants band together to each find their superheroic purpose, Lady in the Water is like a spiritual take on A Nightmare on Elm St. 3: Dream Warriors. Open to it, and it’s engrossing: Funny, scary, unexpectedly poignant.

Unexpectly pointed? write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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