Clerks':taking up the slackers

November 11, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Clerks" is somewhat problematical as a movie, but as a document of slacker anthropology, it is first-class. For that reason alone, I meant to give it three stars instead of 2 1/2 , but I'd already typed "2 1/2 " and it was too much trouble to go back and change it.

Its very rawness gives it meaning and expresses its profound embrace of the slacker mind-set. Unlike, say, "Reality Bites," it is completely unpolished and lacks even low-end professional show-biz attributes. It just doesn't give a damn. In fact, it must have cost something in the neighborhood of .0005 of the budget of "Reality Bites," and I could work that out more precisely, but it would be, you know, like, too much work.

It cost about $27,000. It was made in bleary, hand-held black and white by a former New Jersey convenience-store clerk named Kevin Smith, about a convenience-store clerk and his best friend, a video clerk.

They're bright kids, but not particularly well-motivated. They have somewhat disconnected themselves from society at large, and though clearly overqualified for somewhat lackluster careers in the service economy, seem to take debauched pleasure in the vessel of their degradation and turn their hostility outward toward society, which they have already rejected. Does that make sense? You know what? If it doesn't, I don't really care.

The two are Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson). Dante -- named, you may be sure, in homage to sleazy B-movie actor Michael Dante and not Italian poetry scribe Dante Alighieri -- is the "normal" guy. He's a college dropout, he has a girlfriend (Marilyn Ghigliotti), he's haunted by a lost girlfriend (Lisa Spoonauer), his life is completely on hold while he figures out what to do next. While he waits, he toils away at the QuickStop convenience store in Leonardo, N.J., lamenting his vanishing possibilities and trying to find ice for customers' coffee. He's Willy Loman, he's Archie, he's Natty Bumppo, he's -- ZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Far more interesting is Randal, the Darth Vader of the empire of clerks. This may be Jeff Anderson's first movie, but I don't think it'll be his last. Anderson brings genuine edginess to the film, a dark, sardonic cast that gives his utter lack of interest in his chosen profession a great deal of zing.

He loves to scorch the customers, send them out in a huff. If it amuses him, he'll just shut down shop in the middle of the day and go hang out in the QuickStop, where his special pleasure is telling buddy Dante the truth that buddy Dante prefers not to face. As Dante doubles over in pain, that's always good for a laugh.

The movie, in prime post-modernist fashion, doesn't have a plot, but advances through a series of skits separated by ironic titles as, gradually, facts that might be confused with plot strands emerge. Most of it has to do with Dante's bitterness over the engagement of his ex-girlfriend simultaneous to the discovery that his current girlfriend has set some records in an athletic competition not covered in the Olympics. His agony amuses the ice-cold Randal no end.

Some skits are funny, some are not. The whole enterprise could best by characterized by the description: Sporadic movement intercut by intermittent interruption, which, come to think of it, matches exactly the imitation attention deficit that is at the heart of slacker culture. But when Randal gets going on a riff, he's the new James Woods, and poor Dante, with his achingly dreary litany of troubles, is an amiable target. Randal's funny. He's the whole show. If you care. Which I couldn't less.


Starring Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson

Directed by Kevin Smith

Released by Miramax

Rated R

** 1/2

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