With Clerks III, Kevin Smith ends the trilogy that started in a convenience store, continued in a fast food restaurant, and ends back in a convenience store via his most meta effort yet; a film that will baffle newcomers, but resonate with those who have been there from the start.
Clerks was the little movie that could; a micro-budget feature made at night in the mini-mart where Kevin Smith worked during the day. Released in 1994, it made its money back many times over, and launched the writer-director’s Hollywood career, as well as his View Askewniverse.
The characters introduced in Clerks reappeared in many of the Kevin Smith features that followed, before he made a direct sequel in 2006. Clerks II found protagonists Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) working in fast food joint Mooby’s rather than the Quick Stop, but aside from that, little else had changed.
Now the far-from-dynamic duo are back to finish what started some 28 years ago, via a story inspired by a life-changing event that happened to Smith himself. And while it might not reach the hilarious heights of the original – and veers into sentimentality a little too often – Clerks III is nevertheless a fitting send-off for these beloved characters.
What happens in Clerks 3?
Mooby’s is but a memory at the start of Clerks III, the film kicking off with Dante opening up the Quick Stop, Randall arriving for work, and – as ever – Jay and Silent Bob making mischief outside.
Rather than selling processed goods however, the clerks indulge in a game of hockey on the roof, one that features a host of Kevin Smith friends and collaborators, as ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance plays on the soundtrack.
It’s a self-indulgent start, but in paying tribute to the folk who lifted Smith up along the way, it’s also a joyful way to commence proceedings. And better than the deeply unfunny conversations that follow, concerning subjects that Smith has returned to time-and-time again, with diminishing returns.
Then Randal has a heart attack, and Clerks III kicks off proper. As during his time at the hospital, Dante is told his job is now less about keeping the store open, and more about keeping his Randal’s spirits up. Which gives him an idea regarding film. “You know so much about all that stuff,” he tells his friend. “I always thought you could make a cool movie.”
Randal agrees, and so Clerks III becomes a movie about making a movie in a convenience store, just as Kevin Smith did some three decades previous. And it only gets more meta and self-referential from there.
Randal gets to work right away, with plans to memorialise his own life. Convenience Store is the title for this magum opus, until he writes a script overnight and renames it Inconvenience.
There are auditions, which don’t further the plot, but do serve as an excuse to drop a whole heap of cameos into the movie that we won’t spoil here. But some are big stars, while others are faces familiar from previous View Askew films.
What then follows is a bizarre trip down memory lane, as Randall pretty much shoots Clerks with a (now) much older cast, while the audience watches from behind the camera, seeing in glorious color what once was black-and-white.
It’s a strange experience, seeing people remember stuff for the best part of an hour. And there are moments when it feels like Smith is trying to right past wrongs by acknowledging where jokes were offensive or in bad taste, and re-writing them for the here-and-now.
But if you are invested in this world and these characters, there’s something sweet about this good-natured cover version. And the message at the film’s center – about it never being too late to change – literally comes from the heart.
Silence isn’t always golden
That said, there’s a fair amount that doesn’t work in Clerks III. Variations on jokes about superheroes and religion – Smith’s twin obsessions – have been done before, and done better in his previous movies. While gags about NFTs and crypto already feel dated.
Non-speaking character Blockchain Coltrane gets too much screen-time for someone who elicits zero laughs, particularly as we already have a “Silent” character in the shape of Bob. And that’s before another non-verbal dude appears towards the end, making one wonder if Smith was paying his actors by the word.
Speaking of actors, Brian O’Halloran is also an issue, as throughout the trilogy he’s been fine with the funny stuff, but less convincing when the story turns serious. And here he has a couple of heavy scenes with a lost love that fail to ring true, and briefly threaten to derail the movie.
That said, O’Halloran redeems himself towards the end of Clerks III, when Dante’s most emotional moment absolutely connects, and ends up being the centrepiece of the film.
The Verdict – Is Clerks III good?
The heart attack Randall suffers in Clerks III was inspired by Kevin Smith’s own heart attack in February 2018. Meaning there’s a fair amount that’s autobiographical in the movie, from the existential crisis the illness triggers in both men to the dietary changes it inspires.
But what truly unites fictional Randal Graves and actual Kevin Smith is their love of film. And that passion bleeds through every frame of Clerks III, making the film a joyous celebration of celluloid, as well as a love letter to making sh*t with your friends.
It’s not the most accessible entry point for newcomers, with the narrative aimed squarely at fans of the original, as well as the sequel, spin-offs, and crossover events. But for those who have invested in these characters and their lives for the best part of three decades, there’s lots to enjoy, making Clerks III just as much a love letter to them. And a fitting way to close the celluloid Quick-Stop for good.