Clerks III review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Kevin Smith is getting old but at least his characters grew with him. He still has an affinity for pop culture geekery and low-brow antics as he did nearly 30 years ago with the Clerks films. But his characters are now as middle-aged as he is and it feels fitting that they should have a film that reflects this aspect. This is the best part of Clerks III, bringing the tale of retail slackers to an emotional resolve. Despite the rather mature route this trilogy closer takes, there’s a jarring effect for a film series previously known for debates about Star Wars and donkey shows.
I will say it was pleasing to see these characters in a different light. It always felt like Randal (Jeff Anderson) was the more reserved yet emotional slacker of the duo, becoming more of the low-key eccentric in his trouble-making ways. He was perfectly paired with Dante (Brian O'Halloran), the straight-faced but often bitterly frustrated wage slave who spends more time griping about his mundane life. The old shoes are placed on the other feet when Randal experiences a heart attack and has an existential crisis on his hands.
Wanting to do more with his life, Randal gets off his butt and decides to make something of his life. Specifically, a movie. More specifically, a movie about his life. This leads to the central goal of the film, where Randal wants to reenact the legacy of Clerks in movie form. As you might expect, this leads to a lot of meta jokes about the production of the original film. Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) once more reprise their stoner ways and act as the technical crew of Randal’s movie, making Silent Bob’s insight more vocal when it comes to filmmaking. These moments are strange because it feels more like we’re listening to a director’s commentary track during these scenes than getting some surprising lines by Silent Bob. At this point, he’s pretty much just playing Smith, despite Randal still acting as the film’s director.
The bulk of the film’s comedy relies on replaying some of the funniest moments of the first film. Randal’s desire for authenticity, after being underwhelmed by Ben Affleck’s obligatory cameo during an audition, leads to the same characters being cast in his movie. So we get the aged Anderson still being a goof-off at work and Brian O’Halloran reenacting his 1990s persona of not desiring to be here today. I can only assume that these bits are meant to be hilarious for the reunion-style reprisal because Smith spends quite a lot of time trying to crystalize the past, making for a legacy sequel that is every bit as nostalgic as recent closers for Jurassic World: Dominion and Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker.
Where Clerks III surprises are when we start seeing the sadder side of Dante. Having just endured a tragic loss, Dante feels unable to press forward in his life. It’s only with some encouragement from the heartfelt spirit of Becky (Rosario Dawson) that Dante starts coming to terms with his trauma as well as the same existential dread as Randal. This leads to some rather gut-punchy moments of Dante breaking down and delivering perhaps one of the most emotional monologues of the entire Clerks series. It comes a bit out of left field given the tone of previous Clerks movies, but it’s certainly welcome, especially since most of Smith’s humor seems less pop culture oriented and more referential to his own universe.
The funniest character would have to be Elias, returning from Clerks II. He goes from Christian to Satanist and has all sorts of wild costumes for every scene. He also has this chipper underdog nature that just makes you love the extremely naive lad all the more. He’s not exactly comedic gold, but he fairs better when it feels like Randal’s pop culture dissections have been kneecapped by Clerks becoming more commercial than indie.
Clerks III doesn’t carry anywhere near the same level of comedy but it does provide a relatively heartfelt conclusion for a saga that usually focuses on eccentric cynics. There’s a heavy look-how-far-we’ve-come aspect to the picture, becoming all the more on the nose when Dante literally watches the first movie unfold before his eyes. Those heavy on nostalgia will probably get a major kick out of seeing all these old actors playing the same roles they were in three decades ago. Those who never really had that much affection for Clerks…well, at least there’s no donkey show in this entry.