The opening of Kevin Smith‘s latest directorial effort perfectly recreates the ultra-indie B&W; look of the original, but it soon fires up into color, “Wizard of Oz”-style. The opening also quickly takes care of moving the action away from the Quick Stop and setting up the central theme of the film.

“Shit! Now where am I gonna bring chicks to fuck when my mom’s home?”

That’s right, Gen X arrested development, when you’re pushing 30 and you still live with your parents and work at the kind of job that sucks even when you’re a student (which you haven’t been in a long time). Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) might have miraculously been freed from the Quick Stop, but they’ve ended up in a Mooby’s fast-food restaurant which, obviously, isn’t much better. For Dante, though, there’s hope of a way out from this goddamn clerk life on the horizon: his girlfriend Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach, Smith’s real life wife) and him are about to move to Florida tomorrow. This makes “Clerks II” into kind of a clock movie. It unfolds over a single day (save for the prologue and epilogue) like the first flick, plus there’s that big grown-up change (at last) that’s approaching.

Having worked in both convenience and video stores for many years, I identified with Clerks a great deal and, while my experience with McJobs is much more limited, it’s pretty much all the same anyway – a clerk’s a clerk. I never got quite as exasperated as Dante, but I have known Randal types who’d rather screw around all day than actually work and who shamelessly go on offensive (if hilarious) rants without caring who hears them, even (especially!) if they are customers.

“You know, sometimes I wish I did a little more with my life instead of hanging out in front of places and selling weed and shit.”

Even Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are having an existential crisis – sort of. They might have gone through rehab and found (buddy) Christ, but they’re still loud-mouthed (Jay at least), vulgar fools with a silly song-and-dance fetish. The cast is rounded out by Trevor Fehrman as Elias, a 19 year old Mooby’s employee who’s like a younger, nerdier version of Dante whom Randall has started to subvert, modeling him into his new best friend/whipping-boy in prevision of Hicks’ departure. And last but not least, we have the amazingly lovable yet down to earth Rosario Dawson as Becky, the burger joint’s manager who’s grown to love Dante even though he’s such an unconventional-looking, indecisive loser. This is kind of an only-in-the-movies fantasy (that bastard Hicks has to choose between TWO hotties? What the fuck is he, Archie?), but Smith’s typically thoughtful and insightful dialogue manages to make it believable to a certain extent and even moving.

But don’t think this is just a touchy-feely movie; this isn’t Jersey Girl! “Clerks II” is the funniest movie I’ve seen in years, with tons of huge laughs coming from typically Smith pop culture nods to everything from Transformers to the relative merits of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” trilogies and the “Silence of the Lambs” pee-pee dance, amusing cameos by Ben Affleck (with a mustache), Jason Lee (also with a mustache!) and Wanda Sykes (no mustache), and wildly inappropriate discussions of porch monkeys, interspecies erotica and teenagers who “let you go ass-to-mouth.”

Pretty outrageous stuff, but the most shocking touches in the film are actually the poetic ones. That’s right, poetic. There’s a Go-Karts race and a musical number to the Jackson 5‘s ABC that are truly beautiful, whimsical moments. We’re not talking David Gordon Green or anything, but… Heck, maybe we are; there are two similar sequences in All the Real Girls and I think Smith at least equals them. Another somewhat unexpected element, which goes with the opening’s feel of the ultra-indie days when the first “Clerks” was made, is what a 1990s throwback the whole movie is, from the soundtrack (Smashing Pumpking, Alanis Morissette, Soul Asylum) to the tone, themes and visual style. This is kind of a pit stop between suburbia and singles, two of the best, most underrated films of the ’90s by the way. Here’s hoping that “Clerks II”, Smith’s most hilarious, emotionally honest and poetic (yes, poetic) film will be immediately recognized as the great movie that it is.