Clerks III

In theaters September 13

THE PLOT:

Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are still at the Quick Stop talking trash, insulting customers and pondering on life, films and comics. However, now they are owners of the Quick Stop. The video shop next door, is closed, but Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) now sell weed out of this location.

When Randal has a heart attack and almost dies, he comes to grip with his mortality. Looking to accomplish something of note, he decides to make a film about his life, but when all is said and done, he ultimately makes a film about the value of friendship.

KENT’S TAKE:

“Clerks III” is the next installment in the “Clerks” franchise . . . okay, maybe it’s not quite a franchise, but these films are certainly cult classics and this next installment continues the saga.

Dante is still behind the counter of the Quick Stop rolling his eyes, lamenting his life and pining for his late girlfriend, Becky (Rosario Dawson). Randal still wears his cynicism as armor, insulting those around him with deft verbal jibes. As born again Christian Elias (Trevor Fehrman) attempts to reign-in Randal’s negativity, Randal gets worked up, triggering a heart attack. As often happens, this momentus event triggers a re-evaluation of his life – the resulting film is the catalyst for the final act of the film and creates the emotional power.

Writer/director Kevin Smith once again helm this third installment and it’s important that he does. The consistency and commitment to the characters shows through. Familiar touchstones such as gum on the Quick Stop lock, memorable comic and film references Jay’s sidewalk dance and roof hockey remind audiences why the original film vaulted Smith on the writer/filmmaker map. In this latest installment, Smith has matured as a writer and director and it shows with less sharp edges to the production, yet he also maintains the indie-feel that keeps it on the fringe.

What also keeps it on the fringe is the snappy dialogue. Peppered with bad language, bawdy sexual inuendo and fan-boy references these characters are definitely NSFW (not safe for work). Smith continues his monologue on society as he references crypto currency, religion and Hollywood, but he also reinforces these lighter topics with deeper elements. Dante has some touching moments with his dead girlfriend, Becky and he and Randal also have some mature discussions in the hospital.

Smith shows a maturity in his directing with a more professional production and framing, but also in his blending of original scenes from “Clerks” with current scenes in this film. It becomes a nostalgic trip down memory lane as well as a runway to reveal that these characters have not matured in the past twenty plus years.

Smith’s writing is just as strong as his original gem, but shows a deeper understanding of the emotional side of storytelling by giving this film heart in its conclusion. Dante expresses his loneliness to the ghost of his late girlfriend and later to Randal and the film crew, while Randal eventually looks away from his self-absorbed reflection to realize that he has a true friend.

The cast has aged, but their antics have not, creating a fun wistful sentiment. It’s nice to know that some things never change – meaning immaturity and stupidity in this case. As these emotionally stunted men struggle over the huddles in life, viewers will feel wonderful about their lives in comparison.

There are some memorable cameos in the film (Ben Affleck’s), but there is a resulting problem. When you get skilled, seasoned actors to play even bit parts, it reveals the shortcomings of the less skilled cast. This is evident with Rosario Dawson who soars over Brian O’Halloran in their scenes together and O’Halloran is the strongest actor in the main cast. This is not to say O’Halloran is a bad actor, just that Dawson is a more seasoned actor and she shows it.

As the conclusion plays out and Randal and his cohorts learn valuable lessons that eek them up the maturity scale, Smith brings this series full circle with the line, “You’re not supposed to be here today.” Well, in my humble opinion, audiences are supposed to be here in theaters today for “Clerks III.”

LYNN'S TAKE:

“Clerks III” is strictly for fans, a View Askew production set in that Kevin Smith universe that the writer-director broke through the business with in 1994, which has been his calling card ever since – but actually has a few very adult things to say.

This third installment is the final chapter in the lives of the New Jersey guys portrayed in the award-winning “Clerks” and its 2006 sequel, “Clerks II.” 

As clerks in a convenience store, the characters were neighborhood slackers with obsessive pop culture interests who dealt with bizarre circumstances and oddball customers. Their circle of friends rounded out an eclectic ensemble.

Shot in black-and-white on a very low budget, the comedy became a sensation when the burgeoning independent film scene gave rise to fresh viewpoints. Smith won the Filmmakers Trophy at the ’94 Sundance Film Festival and “Award of the Youth” and the Mercedes-Benz Award at Cannes, and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards for first feature, first screenplay and debut performance (Anderson).

The original “Clerks” spoke to Gen X’ers in a relatable way, especially those in dead-end jobs who didn’t see their dreams ever becoming realities. After “Mallrats” came out a year later, Smith cemented his role as a voice of his generation.

In “Clerks II,” set 10 years later, they wear their lack of ambition like a badge of honor. After the Quick Stop and the adjacent video rental store are destroyed by a fire, the guys work at a fast-food restaurant, Mooby’s. Dante, engaged to Emma and planning to move to Florida, falls in love with fellow employee Becky (Rosario Dawson). With help from stoners Silent Bob and Jay, Dante and Randal buy the Quick Stop and RST Video, thus continuing their journey.

The surprise outcome of the first film, in an ‘only in the movies’ way, saw Smith achieving real-world success by tapping into those hopes, dreams, fears, deep love for the “Star Wars” franchise and his encyclopedic knowledge of comic book characters and superhero/fantasy scenarios. He has made 13 feature films since then, but his career has expanded in many directions. Above all, he is an observer of fate’s strange twists.

They say write what you know, and he did. A struggling filmmaker who worked at a convenience store close to a highway gave him an endless source of material. 

For this leg of the trilogy, Smith takes more events from his life, notably the near-fatal heart attack he suffered before one of his comedy appearances in 2018. Older, wiser, and healthier, his point is that you are never too old to completely change your life.

Randal’s life-altering experience of winding up in the hospital, near death, triggers his decision to be a filmmaker, convincing Dante to make his movie. They shoot it at the Quick Stop.  

It’s very meta, and it knows it. The movie-making experience is a rocky one, presenting hilarious situations and revisiting some of the more controversial plot developments in the previous two. 

In supporting roles, Amy Sedaris is very funny as a wacky no-filter doctor without any bedside manner and Dawson, as Dante’s beloved late wife Becky, appears as a ghost.

Familiar faces are seen in cameos, with star turns from Ben Affleck as Boston John, Sarah Michelle Geller, Fred Armisen, Justin Long and others.

But hidden in the bluster of these films is an underlying sentimental theme of pals going through the ups and downs of life together, and those ties that forever bind us. 

And those schmoes that you grew up with, no matter how things turned out, are what’s important. That is ultimately Smith’s point. They may be juvenile, vulgar, and misguided, but they have a bond – which is often put to the test.

After all, Dante and Randal must confront their future – because they are grown-ups.

A quick wit and a glib tongue, Smith writes natural dialogue that’s funny and fast. You gotta keep up and pay attention.

The crude dark comedy is Smith’s wheelhouse, and he also edited and produced, besides showing up as the iconic Silent Bob character, who along with Jay, hung out in front of the store. The loitering pot-dealing pair were the core characters in three movies – “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001, “Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie!” in 2013 and “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot” in 2019.

Television shows, animated programs, video games and comic books have sprung from Smith’s prolific Viewaskewniverse. In 1999, he made the religious comedy “Dogma,” which became a controversy magnet. Although widely panned, 2004’s “Jersey Girl” is much better than expected (Seriously, Affleck, who also starred in “Chasing Amy,” and Liv Tyler make a sweet couple, Raquel Castro is adorable as young Gertie and George Carlin plays the grandpa).

With a great deal of affection and a very personal perspective, Smith concludes his saga in a satisfying way. 

Do not leave until you hear the song, “I’m from New Jersey,” over the closing credits. John Gorka wrote this quintessential Jersey song in 1991, and it is so fitting here. Touche, Mr. Smith.