REVIEW: Clerks III [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 100 minutes
    Release Date: September 13th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Lionsgate / Fathom Events
    Director(s): Kevin Smith
    Writer(s): Kevin Smith

Spare the heretic I damned in jest.

After a well-publicized implosion despite having already written a script and secured financing wherein everything fell apart in ways that had writer/director Kevin Smith admitting he didn’t see a way back, Clerks III is finally in the can … with a completely new script. Was it an extension of the salary issues that plagued co-lead Jeff Anderson from the beginning or a simple lack of interest in going back to the well that made him hesitate? Bits and pieces can be gleaned from interviews and podcasts (Smith is prolific at putting his thoughts and opinions on the record), but none of it really matters anymore—not outside of whatever closed-door scenario saw those two old friends at a place where Smith consciously knew fences needed to be mended.

If the Clerks saga has one consistent through-line, it’s that its embittered convenience store clerks Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Anderson) need a swift slap to the head every couple of decades to remind themselves that they are neither alone nor lacking the control to change their fates. So, maybe the same can be said for Smith and Anderson. And maybe the former’s heart attack provided the sort of mortality-bound wake-up call necessary to remember why their journey together in this industry started in the first place. It’s therefore not surprising that Smith would write a similar epiphany as the latest fictional catalyst for his crudely wise-cracking duo. Nor that the roles would ultimately be flipped. Randal is usually smacking Dante. Not this time around.

Because despite Randal always saying he’s right where he wants to be regardless of how disappointing that place looks from the outside, the cracks in that affected façade showed via Clerks II. He may give Dante the lecture to stop aspiring towards what society demands, but in so doing also admits his own comfort level depends on his friend’s presence by his side. Dante can’t live without romantic love. Randal needs platonic love. The latter has always had it because the former never seemed able to get out of his own way long enough to truly leave him behind. That sequel’s conclusion is thus the perfect happily ever after with Dante finally finding bliss with Becky (Rosario Dawson) and Randal securing his own with Dante’s promise to stay.

Well, Smith rips the rug out. Not only by giving Randal a heart attack and subsequently pushing him into introspective territory, but also by revealing Dante’s dream never came true. It’s the bombshell within an opening prologue set to My Chemical Romance’s “The Black Parade” that sets the stage for what’s happened these past fifteen years. RST video is now operated by Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) as a legal THC depository. The Quick Stop looks the same beyond a full-scale swap of name brands with fictitious ones and a shift in pricing that renders Dante’s old joke of “nines” relevant considering everything used to end in “fives.” And a copy of Becky’s funeral card is seen taped to the register, tragically displaying the year 2006.

It’s a crucial detail both to the View Askewniverse mythology and Dante’s life being that he remains a widower behind the same counter he manned in his youth, but Smith says nothing. At least not yet. He’s easing us back into this place, holding the heavy stuff at bay to focus on the same toilet humor that made him a household name. Quips about religion and Star Wars abound like usual (both at Trevor Fehrman‘s Elias’ expense) with new topics like crypto worming their way in for relevance even if the jokes don’t feel quite as crisp as before. And perhaps that’s intentional. Knowing Dante and Randel haven’t matured despite an evolving world ensures they earn our pity rather than our adulation. You can’t avoid growing up forever.

Cue the heart attack and a desire to turn back the clock to look at their lives with pride instead of shame. Randal decides to honor that past by writing and directing a film from their experiences—one in which he’ll recruit the “real” people to play themselves in a sweetly nostalgic tour for Smith considering that means reenacting all the best moments from Clerks with an extra thirty-years of age, context, and excuses piled on top. While cutely endearing, however, this is hardly a scintillating plot demanding ninety minutes of screen-time. A casting montage with a ton of familiar faces is a lot of fun, but it’s all surface. The real meat comes from Randal’s unyielding ego insofar as refusing to consider his life was Dante’s too.

What then does this trip down memory lane give them? Randal gets to laugh and pat himself on the back for all his antics. Dante gets to laugh too, but only for a little while once all his mistakes and tragic bad luck flood back. It’s thus a pretty simple conceit. Wind the jack-in-the-box over and over until it inevitably pops. And rather than have the pop be Randal yelling at his friend to open his eyes and see things aren’t so bad, it’s Dante exorcising decades of pent-up frustration to tell his friend that things were never that good. Talk about a gut-punch reversal, but it’s also a necessary one showing Smith learned something through this whole ordeal beyond superficial jabs at himself with jokes about inclusivity.

Similar to Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, there’s a level of maturity here that seems incongruous to the origins of these characters since they were built to immortalize a sense of fearless promise and aspiration—to catalog the uncouth reality of a generation. It means something then to watch these characters grow alongside their creator. Smith could have just milked this cash cow until no one cared anymore, but he realized the importance of these roles as a mouthpiece for his voice whenever he chose to use it. You can let Jay and Silent Bob dance and sell drugs well into their fifties if you also acknowledge that they’ve lived lives outside of those actions. There must be growth. You don’t learn one lesson and suddenly solve life.

Dante learned to take what he wanted and not what was given to him. It gave him Becky and heartache, but also a continued life without regret. What did Randal learn? By always being the one to kick Dante in the pants, he was often forgotten as a sage voice who put on a brave face to live on his own terms. But what if that face was a mask? What if the sarcasm was a shield rather than a weapon? Randal is so entrenched in believing himself a hero that he can’t see just how effective he’s being at pushing the people he loves away. It’s time to learn that they’ve heroically kept him afloat this whole time. How? By realizing how difficult life is without them.

[1] [L-R] Randal (Jeff Anderson), Dante (Brian O’Halloran), Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), Blockchain Coltrane (Austin Zajur) and Elias (Trevor Fehrman) in the comedy, CLERKS III, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
[2] [L-R] Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Becky (Rosario Dawson) in the comedy, CLERKS III, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
[3] [L-R] Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) in the comedy, CLERKS III, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of J Lionsgate.

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