3.5 out of 5 stars

The year Quentin Tarantino astonished critics with Pulp Fiction (1994), another young independent filmmaker was also causing noise at Sundance Film Festival. Inspired by Richard Linklater’s Slackers (1990), Kevin Smith’s debut showcased a sense of originality and raw innovation. Clerks was a hilarious reflection of the jaded youth and attitudes of Generation X. The witty dialogue was remarkably crude and the authentic characters resonated with an insecure generation transitioning into adulthood. Produced on a shoestring budget of $27,000, the writer-director was heralded as an icon of the burgeoning independent film movement of the 1990s.

After Jersey Girl (2004) was critically chastised and Zack and Miri Make a Porn (2008) failed commercially, Smith realised he could no longer afford to alienate his loyal fanbase. The filmmaker made a solitary return to his ‘View Askewniverse’ to revisit his much-beloved characters in Clerks II (2006). The sequel to his groundbreaking debut provided a fitting conclusion to his characters as they found fulfilment in the mundanity. Following the release of Clerks II, a screenplay for the third instalment spent years in development. While Smith began experimenting with darker films like Red State (2011) and Tusk (2014), it appeared his Quick Stop trilogy would never be completed. However, after surviving a fatal heart attack in 2018, Smith made a late return to his fictional universe with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019). Although flawed, it allowed him the opportunity to revisit his beloved characters with compassion and care. And now, almost three decades since his career began, Smith finally closes this particular saga with Clerks III. Serving as a massive love letter to his fans, it’s perhaps one of the most personal and moving entries into the View Askewniverse.

Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are still running the Quick Stop convenience store together after purchasing the old establishment 14 years ago. Meanwhile, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) have converted the adjacent video store into a medicinal marijuana dispensary. During a particularly lively debate about cryptocurrency with Elias (Trevor Fehrman), Randal has a near-fatal heart attack. After a life-saving operation, he’s forced with an overwhelming desire to do something productive with his life. As an avid movie watcher, he decides to become a filmmaker. With the help of Dante, Randal begins writing and directing an autobiographical movie about their experience at the Quick Stop. When Randal’s portrayal of Dante appears insensitive, it begins to put a strain on their relationship.

The character’s continual acceptance of mediocrity provides the perfect backdrop for the scathing and riotous humour. Brian O’Halloran (Mallrats) showcases a surprisingly powerful performance as heartbroken everyman Dante. The actor’s required to do some truly heavy lifting as we learn about a tragedy that shaped his life. As the story progresses, he delivers an extended monologue that’s so poignant it’ll likely bring tears to the eye. Not only does he prove he’s an actor with presence, but he truly exemplifies some of Smith’s best writing. Additionally, Jeff Anderson (Dogma) is hilarious as the quick-witted and overly opinionated Randal; resurrecting his sardonic humour from the original, he fires off vulgar comments as much as pop culture diatribes. Whether praying to Conan the Barbarian’s god after suffering his heart attack (“Are you there, Crom? It’s me, Randal”) or contemplating his cinematic ambitions (“I see myself more like retail’s Richard Linklater”), he provides a much-needed counterbalance to Dante’s cantankerous attitude.

While less reliant on relentless cameos than Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, there’s still an abundance of famous faces from the Askewniverse.  An audition sequence in which Randal and Dante run through a myriad of famous faces features Ben Affleck (The Last Duel), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Southland Tales), and Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers)… while Jason Mewes (Mallrats) and Smith naturally return as Jay and Silent Bob. Although their roles are less prominent than in previous outings, they provide some fine comedic moments when selling cannabis in the same surreptitious manner they’re used to. One particular highlight is Amy Sedaris (The Book of Boba Fett) as the surgeon who attends to Randal after his heart attack, who while operating on Randal has an interesting conversation about The Mandalorian. Her unique brand of humour works perfectly with Smith’s comedic sensibilities.

Although Smith’s pictures aren’t the most visually lush, most of the fun derives from Smith’s penchant for writing authentic conversations and realistic exchanges between his characters. Similar to Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood), the script is packed with poetic monologues, rambling conversations, and pop culture references. Unfortunately, it lacks incredible comic moments like Clerks’ Death Star contractors rant and Clerks II’s Star Wars vs Lord of the Rings sequence. However, despite that, Clerks III strikes a nostalgic chord for longtime fansSmith coasts on the affection and familiarity his audience has for the original while maintaining a balance of earnest nostalgia rather than mocking repetition. He allows the audience to fondly remember the joys of salsa sharks, the milk inspectors, and the Chewlie’s gum salesman as Randal reshoots key sequences with his crew. Some of the best scenes are during the innocent moments when Dante and Randal debate which Star Wars character they would be. Admittedly, the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic quips and inventive uncouth dialogue may read as crude, but his characters feel like real people.

What begins as a comedy eventually reveals itself to be the most earnest entry of Smith’s oeuvre since Chasing Amy (1997). Although the previous entries had moments of sincerity and heart, they were primarily juvenile comedies full of vulgar humour. While there are plenty of laughs throughout, Clerks III represents an introspective product of maturity. There’s an inescapable melancholy as Smith draws inspiration from his own heart attack and reflects on the fragility of life. Randal’s mourning for what he views as his wasted life, whereas Dante’s bereaves the loss of his family. Although they both have regrets and unfulfilled dreams, they have each other. Smith captures that beautifully with a finale that possesses more emotional depth than his entire filmography combined. He reminds his audience that it’s not about what we’re doing in life, but the people we surround ourselves with that make it worth living. It’s evidently clear the filmmaker is working through his own personal experiences while tenderly reflecting on mortality and friendship. Clerks III may not have the best laughs of the trilogy, but it certainly has the most heart. 

Although the self-referential premise could easily become egotistical, Smith utilises the production of Clerks to capture the essence of independent filmmaking. Much of Clerks III consists of Randal and Dante meticulously recreating famous scenes from the original. All of the famous anecdotes from the unorthodox shoot are included along with some brilliant references to Smith’s experience on the set of his first feature. The shutters are jammed to hide the fact that they filmed at night, whereas the original ending featuring Dante being killed is scrapped. A particular highlight is when Randal enlists Silent Bob to be the cinematographer. During one of the rare occasions Silent Bob speaks, he suggests filming in black and white to hide the monotonous colours. Emphasising it’ll create the impression of a security camera and evoke the soullessness of their job. The story behind making Clerks is remarkable and Clerks III essentially feels like listening to a director’s commentary track.

Smith has come a long way since his humble beginnings and his passion is palpable in every frame. However, those familiar with his work will notice that he suffers from an ailment that plagues several independent filmmakers. Similarly to Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza) he refrains from taking risks with his established style. With the immediate success of Clerks, Smith had never experienced criticism until there was already a standard expected from him. After Mallrats (1995) and Jersey Girl (2004) were mercilessly torn apart by critics, he regressed further into his established and acclaimed characters. Smith proved he can make bold and divisive art with Chasing AmyDogma (1999), and Red State, but his lack of confidence as a filmmaker led to a career of appeasing a small but loyal number of vocal supporters rather than challenging himself artistically. Clerks III is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and now that Smith finally closes the chapter on his most beloved characters, hopefully, he’ll thrive and create something more audacious. 

USA | 2022 | 105 MINUTES | 2:39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writer & director: Kevin Smith.
Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Trevor Fehrman Rosario, Austin Zajur, Dawson, Amy Sedaris, Ben Affleck, Sarah Michelle Gellar & Justin Long.