Review: 'Clerks III' proves that Kevin Smith's schtick is getting old, quite literally
If you're not a die-hard fan of the legendary, milestone indie-flick, 1994's "Clerks," then I beg of you: Please, please, PLEASE avoid "Clerks III" at all costs. There is nothing here for anyone who doesn't consider themselves a big fan of filmmaker Kevin Smith's "View Askew-niverse," and in particularly, his first feature-film, "Clerks."
And even for those die-hards, "Clerks III" seems to go to the same well, the same safe places, that many of Smith's recent movies have, in order to suck dry familiar jokes and call-backs. I do think though, that there is enough nostalgia in "Clerks III" to make this a passable, if not an impressive, third and final act for Dante, Randall and the gang at the New Jersey Quick-E Mart.
Somewhere along the way, through a multitude of dick and poop jokes, the clouds of marijuana smoke (mostly provided by proverbial side-kicks, Jay & Silent Bob) and the lengthy discussions about intricate details of the Star Wars saga, we actually find that we care about these characters. "Clerks III" gives them the emotional send-off that they probably didn't deserve, or even needed. But it allows Smith the opportunity to reflect and comment on his original creation, now from the eyes of a middle-aged man with the wisdom of nearly 30 years of separation, instead of as a wide-eyed twenty-something-er looking to take the world by storm while simultaneously trying to figure out exactly who he is.
Kevin Smith has grown as a person, even if his films seem to be stunted. Look, from the beginning, no one applauded "Clerks" for its technical savvy. It was famously made for about 27-thousand-dollars with a cast of unknowns, all of whom were friends or acquaintances of Smith. In many ways, it looks like a student film. The real brilliance of "Clerks" was in the writing, the sharp observations and the witty dialogue.
It IS a historically important film. Not many young filmmakers knew how to make a film, even as they worshipped films like "Star Wars," "The Godfather" or "Jaws." It was "Clerks" that made movie-making seem attainable. All you needed was a camera (even black-and-white film will do), a group of friends, and a good idea...and enough credit limit to get things off the ground. It's because of Kevin Smith that an entire generation of independent filmmakers got their start, and this cannot be understated, even as many have bashed Smith's inability to add to his repertoire over the years. Half of these filmmakers might have been inspired by Smith's unique wordplay...the other half might have said, "Well if Kevin Smith can make "Clerks," I definitely can make my movie!" Either way, he is an important and vital figure in modern film history, critics be damned.
The cleverness of Smith's creations made him an icon, from "Clerks" to "Mallrats" to "Chasing Amy" and "Dogma." "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" was actually a hilarious movie that pulled all of his films together into one universe. But somewhere around "Clerks II," Smith seemed content with playing with his old toys, instead of giving us any new ones.
Well, he did stray from the "Askew-niverse," for what are almost universally hated films, from "Jersey Girl" to "Tusk" and "Yoga Hosers." The recent disastrously unfunny "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" had the kernel of a good idea buried within it somewhere, but was a sure-fire sign that his once exciting shared universe was begging to be retired for good.
"Clerks III" doesn't feel like a cash-grab, or like a futile attempt to keep the "Askew-niverse" going. Having suffered a near-fatal heart-attack in real-life, Smith clearly had a lot to say about life, his experiences and putting things into perspective...he pours all of this into his new film. This bit of authenticity saves "Clerks III" from itself. Instead of wowing us with his words like he used to, it survives on our shared love for what he once gave us, nearly 30 years ago. We respect his journey, and the journey of these characters, even if many of them are sadly still rendered in black-and-white.
The worse news of all is, that for most of "Clerks III," it just isn't very funny. Like at all. But if you can make it through the painfully unfunny first hour, you will be rewarded with a trip down "Clerks" memory lane.
Following the events of "Clerks II," Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and his pal Randal (Jeff Anderson) still own the Quick-E Mart from the original film, now restored after a fire had burned it down. Jay (Jason Mewes) and his no-longer-tubby pal Silent Bob (Smith himself) now run an adjacent marijuana/THC store, taking the space of the old video rental store. Once funny tag-along, Elias (Trevor Fehrman), introduced in "Clerks II," is a constant-yet-annoying presence, who has befriended another "silent" character, Blockchain Coltrane (Austin Zajur).
Randal has a heart-attack, and after surviving, he devotes himself to making the movie of his life, which ends up essentially being the actual "Clerks" movie (woah, meta). All - and I mean ALL - of the original cast is back, from the Egg checker guy (Walter Flanagan) to Dante's old girlfriend, Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti). Even the Chewlies Gum Rep (Scott Schiaffo) makes an appearance. The rest are scattered like Easter Eggs throughout, and each brings a smile as we remember them EXACTLY as we once saw them in the first film.
As we make it through the excruciatingly, embarrassingly lame first half, the movie begins to pick up right around a scene where several actors start auditioning for Randal's movie. This try-out scene is chock-full of cameos, none of which I'll spoil here. Then, the "Clerks" movie production begins, and it's actually both funny - for the most part - as well as insightful. Did you know that, for example, Jay Mewes refused to perform during the original film's "Jay & Silent Bob Dancing Scene" unless everyone - including the camera operator, cleared the set? Just like in this film.
The emotional center of the film becomes Dante, showcasing a surprisingly powerful performance by Brian O'Halloran. O'Halloran, of them all, shows that he belongs...he IS supposed to be here. You don't come to an "Askew-niverse" film, typically, for the acting, but O'Halloran digs deep more than once and effectively nails it. It's a good thing he does, because everything that Smith is trying to say comes through Dante, and is delivered with heart and dare I say grace. Late in the film, Dante lays it all on the line, in an extended monologue, that finally matches the poignancy and sharpness of Smith's original film. Except this time it doesn't make you laugh, it makes you cry.
Critics will debate for centuries whether a movie series featuring talks of blowjobs (37!!???), overturned caskets, and "snowballing" actually earns this sort of impactful ending. But for me - a massive fan of "Clerks" and a critic who always finds myself rooting FOR Smith, and not against him - it hit the spot. Who knew that Dante's story arch from the first film would be a tragedy, not a comedy? Like Smith's own journey, things don't always work out the way we want, or the way we envision.
It's hard to recommend such a film calling itself a comedy, with large stretches of unfunny jokes that miss the mark over and over, cast at such a small target audience. However I do recommend "Clerks III," just barely, for anyone at all, like me, who was forever changed by the work of Kevin Smith, and who worships "Clerks" for all of its imperfections.
Somewhere along the way, it went from, "I love this job, if not for the f***ing customers" to "I love this job BECAUSE of the f***ing customers." That's the sort of wisdom we've come to expect from Silent Bob, given during his few lines of dialogue over the years. But when Kevin Smith himself delivers the line during the end credits, it becomes another moment of clarity, spoken by the unlikeliest of sources. As always, Silent Bob/Kevin Smith reminds us of something important, and "Clerks III" suddenly doesn't seem all that bad.
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.
Starring: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Ben Affleck, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Written & Directed by Kevin Smith ("Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," "Yoga Hosers," "Tusk," "Cop Out," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," "Clerks II," "Mallrats," "Clerks," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma").
"Clerks III" is in limited theatrical release starting on Tuesday, September 13th, 2022.
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