— by Larry Carroll
BEVERLY HILLS, California — Thirteen years ago, Hollywood was rocked by a New Jersey convenience store clerk who was sick of his job. He was angry about his lousy pay, the crappy car he would eventually sell to help fund a tiny, influential movie and the idiotic customers he vicariously mocked through his characters. Titled simply "Clerks," the film was do-it-yourself filmmaking at its finest, fueled by the kind of anti-establishment rage that had similarly given birth to everything from the Beat poets and writers of the '50s and '60s to punk rock and hip-hop.
Now that angry young man is an affluent Hollywood power player with seven movies under his belt and a gorgeous wife who, even he admits, is way out of his league.
So what does Kevin Smith still have to be pissed off about?
"Back then, I was angry about the fact that my di-- was small," Smith revealed recently, flashing the devilish grin of a not-so-silent Bob. "I'm still angry about the same thing."
"Comedy comes from pain," he added, getting a bit more serious about his decision to finally revisit the dead-end world he once inhabited. "I think the anger is still kinda there. [There's a stereotype of] the 'angry young man' — but at age 35, you can't be the angry young man.
"You can be the angry old man," he continued. "But that's not nearly as charming."
Some might debate that point after seeing "Clerks II," a freewheeling, good-natured return to form that finds Smith and his merry pranksters every bit as cynical, sarcastic and crude as they were when the director first filled their mouths with his own embittered broadsides.
"I grew up with Kevin. We went to high school together and honestly he hasn't changed that much," insisted Jeff Anderson, whose backward-hat-wearing blabbermouth Randal finds himself working in a fast-food restaurant in the new movie. "He's got a much nicer house, he's got a nice wife, he's got a kid, but other than that he's still kinda Kevin. When we hang out, we spend 90 percent of our time bagging on people from high school and about 3 percent of our time talking about movies. The other 7 percent I'm gonna leave to your imagination."
One guess at what fuels that mysterious 7 percent would be the all-encompassing idea of pop culture, a topic whose minutiae is wielded in a Kevin Smith flick with the type of lethal accuracy one might expect from a star-tossing ninja. In the original "Clerks," fans heard sharply written dialogue revolving around "Star Wars," "Jaws" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and realized that film characters were finally talking about the same sort of nonsense that they did.
More than a decade later, the ongoing debate centers on flicks like "Lord of the Rings," the upcoming "Transformers" movie and, naturally, more "Star Wars."
"I always have people asking me, 'Are you even supposed to be here today?' " grinned Brian O'Halloran, who plays goateed do-gooder Dante Hicks in the films and whose signature line from the first "Clerks" — "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" — has entered the movie-geek lexicon.
"I don't so much get a line [from the film] as I get asked repeatedly about 'Star Wars,' " Anderson sighed. "I get a lot of 'Star Wars' questions. You'd think I was C-3PO!"
When Smith set out to tell the story of what life might have been like if his $27,000 debut film hadn't made him rich and famous, he knew that he needed to include one thing that the clerks never could have landed before: the type of woman who would make a man get serious about marriage.
Smith started sending his "Clerks II" script to the hottest actresses in town; most of them ran for the hills after getting a look at its borderline NC-17 subject matter.
"We sent it to Liv Tyler," Smith grinned. "She was like, 'I just had a kid, man. I can't be in a movie with a donkey show in it!' "
"There is a donkey show in it, and I was pretty excited!" laughed Rosario Dawson, the rare potty-mouthed actress who appreciates a well-constructed bestiality joke. "The jokes and the raunch and stuff like that are just a way to disguise the fact that Kevin's actually kind of a sweetheart."
The "Sin City" sexpot was quickly cast as Mooby's restaurant manager Becky, who spends her days stifling Randal's insane ramblings, avoiding comical druggies Jay and Silent Bob and flirting (or seeming to flirt) with the engaged-to-someone-else Dante. Dawson was amazed by how quickly she fit in with Smith and the rest of the cast. But when she finally watched the playback of a slow-motion scene that required her to dance seductively, the actress discovered that she could never truly just be one of the boys.
"There is this point where I'm dancing, and my boobs are shaking a lot," she laughed, shrugging her shoulders. "I was like, 'You guys are no friends. I have no friends.' Someone should have said something to me, because that's just a little outrageous."
"But it is a sweet moment," she added. "I really love it."
"Let me tell you something," Smith retorted. "I was born on a Friday, but it wasn't last Friday. Rosario has had that chest for a long time now. I can't imagine that she gets there and she's like, 'I had no idea that if I jumped, they would jump as well!' "
"I remember shooting that scene," he continued, attempting to set the record straight. "She was looking at playback on the rooftop, and she was like, 'The girls are movin'!' They are hers, right? I mean, we're supposed to believe they've never moved before?"
Thirteen years ago, Kevin Smith and his "Clerks" stars were minimum-wage nobodies in New Jersey, channeling their anger into a tiny independent film.
Now, with some help from Rosario Dawson, they finally have ample reason to smile.