A dozen years have passed since Kevin Smith's Gen-X classic "Clerks," and now Smith checks back in with the Quick Stop slackers upon whom he built his indie filmmaker reputation.
Smith's fans will be happy to know that not much changes in "Clerks II." Dante and Randal (Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson) are still working dead-end jobs, only now they're in a fast-food restaurant. They still get through the day mocking customers with cruel jokes, which only get raunchier. And, of course, drug dealer clowns Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) are back in the parking lot, conducting business.
But even for those frozen in time, the clock turns. "Clerks II" switches from the grainy black and white of the 1994 original to contemporary color, even though the story picks up where the first ends, with the Quick Stop burning down.
Ensconced in a new job that's just as annoying, Dante's luck might nevertheless be changing. He's marrying and planning to move to Florida with his fiancée, but not before a kick-ass going-away party -- and by kick-ass, it might involve an amorous donkey.
Then there's Dante's new boss, the ultracool Rosario Dawson, who should be out of Dante's league, but there's clearly a chemistry between them.
Smith has been off his game in recent years. His last effort, "Jersey Girl," served as nothing more than a public relations embarrassment for Ben Affleck, and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" played largely to Smith's fan base and crept quickly into obscurity.
Returning to the scene of his breakthrough movie might be a good move. "Clerks II" captures Smith's trademark sharp dialogue and those witty exchanges that mark his best work as a screenwriter, although the language sets new limits in what to expect in a Smith film.
The filmmaker told reporters that he was actually relieved when the Motion Picture Association of America gave "Clerks II" an R-rating.
"We turn it over to the MPAA, and we get the call ... like, an hour after they watched it, that we got the 'R,'" Smith said. "And I was, like, very excited 'cause it meant I didn't have to go and do the appeals fight or anything like that.
"But then after the dust settled, I was just like, 'What's wrong with this organization, man?' Clearly this is an NC-17 film."
Still, Smith aims to write more than a raunchy teen comedy. At his best, he finds bizarre moments of warmth between the misfit characters, as he did in "Chasing Amy," a pre-"Jersey Girl" effort that suggested that Affleck could still make it as a leading man.
"There's more heart to this one than there was to the first one," Smith said. "And you actually feel for the characters more in this one than you did in the first one."