NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for Clerks III!
I was surprised when I had started hearing good things about the third installment in Kevin Smith’s Clerks franchise.
I know Clerks II is somewhat divisive, and I don’t personally recall having cared at all for it (though it has been years since I watched it). I heard such abhorrent things about The Jay & Silent Bob Reboot that I never got around to watching that. Combine that with Smith’s other recent forays outside of the View Askewniverse that have been a mixed bag and… if not for word of mouth, I’d have let Clerks III come and go right b y me without a second thought.
But months after its release, I found myself needing something to watch. I recalled the positivity it had garnered, so I thought, “Why not?”.
The trailers gave away much of the plot. After having suffered a heart attack he had little chance of surviving, Randall decides to make a movie about his life. This leads to some fun cameos from bigger name actors trying out for the roles, but Randall decides to just cast his friends instead. He puts Dante in charge of producing (i.e., scaring up the money to pay for the whole shebang), and from there, what we get are a lot of re-enactments of the jokes we remember from Clerks.
It’s all relatively tedious. Dante’s emotion over Randall’s heart attack works, but after that, we basically just get jokes about jokes, and the meta-ness of it all isn’t even particularly funny. It’s just… stuff is happening. We get a lot of the characters from Clerks returning (like Veronica of the famous 37 Dicks joke), and commentary on if the characters saying Dante’s girlfriend left him for “an Asian Design Major” is racist or not.
As the movie goes on, the story starts shifting more towards Dante. We see that Rosario Dawson’s Becky character died off-screen shortly after the events of Clerks 2, and he is irrevocably broken by her loss. In an effort to make things work for Randall by any means, he reaches out to his ex-fiancé to beg her for the money needed to finance Randall’s dream. Something she agrees to… in exchange for Dante’s share of ownership of the Quik-Stop.
Stressors build as Randall makes no bones that this is HIS story, and that Dante is just a part of it. When Randall wants to re-create the Donkey Show from Clerks II, Dante breaks down and runs away, unable to deal with going back to Mooby’s, where he met Becky.
And this is where things turn, as Randall is furious at a drunk Dante for abandoning him. While filming their next scene–the Salsa Shark bit from Clerks–Dante snaps, going off-script to berate Randall for milking his heart attack and making everything about him. He declares that he is quitting the movie AND his friendship with Randall… then suffers a heart attack of his own.
An outburst from Elias shows Randall the error of his ways, and he rushes home to re-cut his movie to make it about Dante. He then sneaks into the hospital to watch the movie with Dante, now an ode to their friendship… but Dante dies before it is over. HOLY SHIT.
At Dante’s funeral, Randall laments the loss of his best friend not with a pop culture reference, but by remarking that Dante “wasn’t supposed to be here today”.
TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS
+The back end of this movie really is a kick in the teeth. Your mileage may vary, but I really did not see the ending coming. And even once Dante had the heart attack, I did not think the movie would actually kill him. Is it all straight up emotional manipulation? Sure. It definitely is. But it worked on me, damn it. Dante’s dreams of Becky were also potent… especially the last one. “No, I trust the director”.
+Seeing a lot of the returning characters was fun. You expect that in the View Askewniverse, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see Veronica or Cohey of all people. It’s nice to hear these names and see these (older) faces and remember the stories I loved years (hell, DECADES) ago.
-Since I do not recall much of Clerks II, I certainly do not remember the Elias character who has some import here. I didn’t care that I had forgotten him, though, as his story arc (abandoning Christianity in favor of worshipping Satan) is by far the least interesting and humorous of the flick. It just feels so forced and like a dumb reason to put him in makeup and weird costumes.
-As much as seeing some old characters was nice, this movie is just in cruise control until Dante’s big panic attack at Mooby’s, and by then, the movie is almost over. Now, are the last 20+ minutes really powerful? They are! But this movie had a substantially lower score in my head until that turn. It just feels like everything is killing time until the film wants to gut punch you.
It’s not a particularly well-balanced movie, but it is a fitting send-off to these characters many of us grew up with. Everything about the ending feels like the movie is just screwing with your emotions, but it IS well done and works, so who am I to complain? Manipulation doesn’t HAVE to be bad, and it isn’t here.