“A sequel? What am I, a hack?”Randal
Kevin Smith’s return to the Quick Stop in Clerks III is as self-indulgent as the abysmal Jay and Silent Bob Reboot but is considerably more successful, even if its comedy is inconsistent. Rejoining the eponymous clerks after 16 years, the theme is mortality as Randal suffers a heart attack and — whilst re-evaluating his life — decides to make a movie of his life that is essentially the original Clerks. The result lies at a cross-roads between nostalgic fan-service and a meta-textual examination of Smith’s own life. Opening with some full-colour recreations of key sequences from the original black-and-white Clerks, Smith explains during the credits that this reflects his memory of shooting the cult film 30 years ago. Meanwhile, Dante’s support for Randal’s film out of concern for his health mirrors Smith’s real-life touring podcast as a way to support Jason Mewes’ sobriety. Fans will recognise shooting stories brought to life, like Jay/Mewes’ shy refusal to dance in front of the crew. Whereas Randal was originally written as the person Smith wished to be — with open disdain for customers and not caring what others thought — his maturing perspective is more critical of the character. Filmmaking provides Randal with a productive way out of the arrested development in which we have seen him for 30 years whilst Dante remains fixated on the past, echoing competing aspects of Smith’s filmmaking over time. Clerks III’s humour may only land sporadically but it still manages to feel poignant, its last third committing to a more serious tone befitting the recognition of one’s mortality and the evaluation of Dante and Randal’s friendship. It would have been an interesting coda with which to draw a line under the View Askewniverse, but we know that a sequel to Mallrats is still under way. Instead Clerks III is another marker in a career that now spends more time looking backward than forward, in strange contrast to the film’s own message.