Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Extensive use of Extremely Explicit Sex-Related Dialogue
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes & Kevin Smith
I rarely delve into my personal life in my reviews, but it bears mentioning that I have worked in retail for about eight years at this point. I deal with customers every shift that make me want to tear my hair out and I know that I’m not the only one with these sentiments. Kevin Smith suffered through a similar over-the-counter grind, because this film is all about two disgruntled clerks (duh) and their misadventures over the course of one work day. Working on a ridiculously small budget over the space of 21 nights at his place of employment, Kevin Smith constructed one of the funniest comedies to come out of the 90’s. The foul-mouthed, conversation-filled nature of CLERKS might not be for everyone, but it will definitely work for most who have suffered through the hell that is retail work as well as those who want something out of the ordinary in their comedies.
Dante Hicks is having a rough time. He’s a New Jersey retail clerk who’s been called in on his day off. What started as a six-hour shift quickly consumes Dante’s entire day as he suffers through various aggravating customers and copes with his wise-ass lazy co-worker, Randal. This film is made primarily of conversations between Dante and Randal, Dante and his girlfriend, and between the two disgruntled employees and various customers. In actuality, not much happens in course of CLERKS. The film manages to be wholly entertaining from beginning to end because it’s driven by repulsive hilarity and great dialogue.
CLERKS feels like it’s simultaneously realistic and exaggerated. Anybody who works in retail can tell you that there are awful shifts populated by dumbasses who somehow don’t consider “lowly” store clerks to be fellow human beings. Smith manages to capture this aggravation as well as the sheer mind-boggling nature of how stupid people can be in one foul swoop. Meanwhile, Smith knows not to keep everything grounded in reality as events quickly spiral out of control into some very dark areas. There’s a scene that comes near the end of the movie (you’ll know it when you see it) that arguably crosses a line. By the time this scene arrives, I had heard so much graphic sexual dialogue that I became slightly numbed to what exactly happened and only afterwards was I thinking something along the lines of “Holy shit! They went there.” It bears mentioning that this film was originally slapped with an NC-17 based purely off the dialogue. The MPAA’s decision was ridiculous from the get-go, but you cannot deny that the film is one of the raunchiest comedies ever produced…and that’s a very good thing depending on your tastes.
The B&W coloring of CLERKS (something that either cost Smith more money or was done on the cheap) lends a sense of real-world grittiness to the movie that blends into the down-to-earth tone of the story. Aside from the dirty dialogue, cool style, and grassroots nature of CLERKS, the best part and the only flaw both come from the performances. We’ve all known people like Dante, played by Brian O’Halloran. He’s a young guy lamenting the fact that he seems to be going nowhere in life, but doesn’t exactly have the balls to change anything about that. Meanwhile, Randal (first-time actor Jeff Anderson, who originally auditioned as a joke) is someone who we’ve also encountered in the workplace. He’s a lazy, smart-ass who has somehow managed to keep his job in spite of his horrible attitude and rude behavior towards customers. The rest of the characters are made up of Dante’s friends and random customers…except for Jay and Silent Bob! This film introduced those iconic pot-dealing characters and they weren’t fully what they are now. In fact, I’d argue that their very presence slightly distracts from the jokes that work. However, this can be forgiven when you consider what the characters eventually evolved into.
Have you ever had a hellish day/night at a retail job? Good, then you can relate to CLERKS. Have you ever had awkward discussions with insufferable co-workers about inappropriate topics? Good, then you can relate to CLERKS. Do you laugh or joke about these experiences now? Good, then you’re likely to love CLERKS. It’s a cheap film composed of profanity-filled conversations about pornography, STAR WARS, relationship woes, and the various dumbasses you encounter at any retail job. Taken as such, it’s wholly enjoyable and near-perfect movie.