The sound of giving up rings loud & clear in this exercise in empty nostalgia.
Considering Kevin Smith‘s career from a 2022 perspective is a fascinating exercise. His early output, from 1994’s Clerks to 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, were once quintessential texts for Gen X / film nerds, treated with the same reverence as the films of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. But that isn’t the case anymore, and hasn’t been for over a decade.
After Zack and Miri Make a Porno bombed, Smith stopped challenging himself and started making films only for his most devoted fans. Now, those same film nerds who idolized Smith look back on his early output as films they liked when they were younger, and which sadly no longer hold up.
In tune with not challenging himself, we arrive at Clerks III, the second trip back to the well involving the Quick Stop employees — Dante (Brian O’Halloran), Randal (Jeff Anderson), and of course the ubiquitous Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). The first sequel in 2006 shouldn’t have worked, but somehow does. It wasn’t the Gen X calling card that the original Clerks was, but for fans that wanted to see those characters again in funny scenarios, it mostly delivers.
Clerks III, on the other hand, is a baffling, ugly, unfunny venture into Lifetime movie levels of sappiness, with none of the charm, wit, or heart of its predecessors.
Dante and Randal have owned the Quick Stop convenience store for 16 years now. Elias (Trevor Fehrman from Clerks II) has also joined the boys in their daily trek through the mediocrity of working with the general public. Dante is still grieving following a personal tragedy, Randal is still Randal, and Jay and Silent Bob have opened a weed store next door.
One day, following a lengthy ribbing of Elias’ new Christian crypto club and out of place references to TikTok and Tinder, Randal suffers a near-fatal heart attack. The next twenty minutes after this health scare play out exactly how Smith has described his own near-fatal heart attack in any interview since 2018. And I mean, exactly, word for word. “Everything is copy,” etc, etc, but this feels more from a point of laziness than life being distilled into art. This is where Clerks III stays and never leaves. After reflecting on his life and realizing his life has “sucked,” Randal decides to make a movie about his sucky life, in the belief that that will somehow make his life not suck anymore.
The film Randal wants to make is essentially just a meta remake of Clerks (with some elements of Clerks II). This leads to a constant stream of moments that simply call back to scenes from Clerks, with no new jokes added. The film becomes a lazy clip show trying to persuade the audience into liking this new sequel because they may have liked Clerks once upon a time.
[A] baffling, ugly, unfunny venture into Lifetime movie levels of sappiness, with none of the charm, wit, or heart of its predecessors.
Post-Zack and Miri, Kevin Smith is better known for crying on camera at Marvel trailers, and with that personal change, there are now extremely laborious scenes in his films where he tries to tug at the heartstrings. All of this started with the jail scene from Clerks II, which nicely balanced drama and humor. Smith has tried with both 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and this film to replicate that moment, but to absolutely horrendous results.
Unlike the scoreless jail scene from Clerks II, Clerks III is constantly drowning in its own score for every dramatic beat to the point of parody. It feels like a college student’s capstone project spoofing the original film, with the actors lit in such a way that they resemble wax figures. While the previous two Clerks films were light on plot and more about hanging out with these people, that becomes a clear detriment here.
It takes an hour into this 100 minute film for Randal to finally start shooting his movie. Prior to that are painfully unfunny scenes involving Elias and his new friend wearing outlandish outfits after converting to Satanism because “God didn’t help Randal survive his heart attack.”
Dante and Randal are characters that are generally fun to watch. Randal pisses off customers, and Dante chastises him for it. Hilarity ensues. There are no new customers for them to interact with and make jokes about here, and, honestly, nothing new to mine for a story. Dante is still unable to move on after a tragedy that happened 16 years ago. Both of them can’t move past things that happened in 1994 and 2006.
Back in 2006, Smith mentioned in the commentary track of Clerks II that it would be interesting to do another sequel, but it would have to wait a while so that there would be a reason to check back in with these characters. Maybe if Smith waited another 14 years, he would have had a half-decent sequel to offer us.
Clerks III is a retread of a retread, with none of the scrappy vulgarity of the original, or the heart from the sequel. It feels like an obligatory peek back instead of creating a new story that requires something different of these characters. Kevin Smith loves making movies, but that love hasn’t translated to the screen in a while. Smith, like his characters, is stuck where he began and can’t understand why things can’t be like it was in 1994. But in 2022, it’s enough to be embarrassed that his first few films ever delighted you in the first place.
Clerks III premieres in limited theatrical release on September 13th.