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Before Kevin Smith became a Hollywood darling with Chasing Amy, a film he wrote and directed, he made this $27,000 comedy about real-life experiences working for chump change at a New Jersey convenience store. A rude, foul-mouthed collection of anecdotes about the responsibilities that go with being on the wrong side of the till, the film is also a relationship story that takes some hilarious turns once the lovers start revealing their sexual histories to one another. In the best tradition of first-time, ultra-low budget independent films, Smith uses Clerks as an audition piece, demonstrating that he not only can handle two-character comedy but also has an eye for action--as proven in a smoothly handled rooftop hockey scene. Smith himself appears as a silent figure who hangs out on the fringes of the store's property. --Tom Keogh
Writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks) makes a huge leap in sophistication with this strong story about a comic-book artist (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams) and actually gets his wish that she love him, too. Their relationship is attacked, however, by his business partner (Jason Lee), who pulls a very unsubtle Iago act to cast doubt over the whole affair. The film has the same sense of insiderness as Clerks--this time, Smith takes us within the arcane, funny world of comic-book cultism--but the themes of jealousy, deceit, and the high price of growing up enough to truly care for someone make this a very satisfying movie. --Tom Keogh
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
With sidesplitting dialogue and rampant profanity, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back reunites Kevin Smith's dynamic duo in supreme lowbrow style. It's the fifth comedy in Smith's celebrated New Jersey "trilogy." Here Quick-Stop potheads Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) wreak vengeance on Hollywood, where Miramax is making a "Bluntman & Chronic" feature inspired by J. and S.B., but without their permission. En route from Jersey to La La Land, Jay and his "hetero life mate" encounter sexy jewel thieves (including the delightful Shannon Elizabeth), a precocious orangutan, a dimwit wildlife marshal (Will Ferrell), and a nonstop parade of in-jokes, harmless (yet controversial) gay jokes, and splendid celebrity cameos. While gently biting the Miramax hand that feeds him, and paying affectionate homage to the Star Wars saga, Smith sheds all inhibitions to give Jay and Silent Bob a stellar sendoff that's nasty, sassy, and undeniably hilarious. --Jeff Shannon