CLERKS III manages to survive Smith’s worst instincts — Moviejawn

Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fuhrman, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, and a million cameos
Rated R for pervasive language, crude sexual material, and drug content
Running Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes
Exclusively in theaters on September 13 and 15

by Ian Hrabe, Staff Writer

Kevin Smith feels like a living affront to the old adage “you can never go home again.” Where the adage is meant to capture the way things in reality never quite live up to our memory of them, Smith’s two latest features find the director returning to familiar territory as a way of recapturing the crude comedy that made him famous. The problem is it’s not the 1990s anymore, the world has changed, and Jay and Silent Bob feel like cringey relics of simpler times. Smith proved this with 2019’s dead horse beating/shark jumping/entirely unfun Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which was borderline traumatic for someone who cut their teeth on Smith’s early work. It was a look at what happens when you go back to the well one too many times and the thing comes up bone dry. Considering how the movie was a failure on every single level, it’s fair to wonder if Clerks III would do to Dante and Randal what Jay and Silent Bob did for its titular characters. 

My first introduction to Kevin Smith was via pilfering the VHS copy of Clerks my parents rented, which says a lot about how insane it was that my incredibly normal parents had heard about this little independent movie and were intrigued enough to check it out. I personally didn’t see the appeal. It was nothing but two losers talking and in black and white to boot! That said, I was like, 10 years old so I didn’t blame myself too much when I became a Kevin Smith superfan as a teenager. Clerks still holds up and is arguably Smith’s best film by traditional filmmaking standards. It’s a time capsule of the mid-90s and you can still feel the verve of that independent filmmaking spirit that makes it so special. By the time Clerks II came around Smith hadn’t quite hit his “I don’t give a shit if this is any good phase,” and while the movie pales in comparison to the original, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) was still strong enough characters and made that movie a lot of fun.

Kevin Smith’s career is in a weird place right now and the announcement of Clerks III felt like Smith was either going to return to form or further descend into territory that strained the watchability of people who don’t listen to his podcast. His general MO since 2014’s Tusk has been “I don’t give a shit if this movie is any good, I want to have fun making it” mode which, that’s fine for him, but makes his latter-day movies a struggle if you like, I don’t know, cohesive filmmaking that doesn’t make your bones hurt (see: Johnny Depp doing a Quebecois accent in a scene in Tusk that goes on so long I feel like I’m still watching it to this day). Mercifully, Clerks III has enough Clerks in it to keep Smith’s worst predilections at bay and while it has plenty of unfunny examples of Smith’s current sensibilities, when it focuses on the bromance between Dante and Randal it recaptures the magic of the original.

The plot serves as a meta way for Smith to tell his own story in the language of Clerks. Dante and Randal are still working at the Quick Stop and bantering at each other like an old married couple. They still play hockey on the roof. Jay and Silent Bob are still hanging out next door, though now they operate a legal weed store outside of the old RST Video (which hilariously still has all the videotapes lining the walls). Even after the sojourn to Mooby’s in Clerks II, not much has changed. Rosario Dawson’s character Becky has been killed off and their uber-Christian Mooby’s coworker Elias (Trevor Fuhrman) now works at the Quick Stop with them. When Randal suffers a heart attack and gets a new lease on life, he decides to write and shoot a movie based on, you guessed it, his time working at the Quick Stop and RST Video. And so, the clerks make Clerks. 

And you know what? So much of this premise works that it’s a shame Smith insists on kneecapping it with stuff like Elias being into crypto and peddling Christian NFTs (which has already aged like milk), Elias losing faith and becoming a Satanist, and generally, and just Elias in general. The character seems tailor made to remind you that Smith is in “I don’t give a shit about making a good movie” mode and there are excruciatingly long stretches of dialogue where Elias talks to one of the characters and time seems to stand still. Bless Trevor Fuhrman’s heart, but the dude just cannot act, and it’s brutal watching him flail around on screen. But when Dante and Randal are together it’s movie magic. Bryan O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson have such a natural chemistry that even Smith can’t sabotage it. Their lo-fi cinematic legacy makes scenes like Dante comforting Randal at the ER after Randal suffers his heart attack surprisingly moving. We’ve known these characters almost as long as they have known each other, which gives Clerks III some built in stakes that help smooth over the roughest edges. 

Considering that Smith is also in “you CAN go home again mode,” Clerks III is loaded with cameos. The best ones aren’t your surprises I don’t want to spoil (who appear in a LONG montage where Dante and Randal are auditioning actors for the Randal’s movie), but the reprises from characters from the original movie. Marilyn Ghigliotti returns as Dante’s ex-girlfriend Veronica (of Silent Bob’s iconic “There’s a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work” monologue) and it’s just…nice to see her again. It ties together Clerks and Clerks III in an organic way. Same goes for recurring parts for all the weirdos who inhabit the Quik Stop in the original. It just feels nice to live in that world again for a while, and as Randal’s filmmaking gets underway, the better the film feels. We get to see the clerks and their crew re-creating scenes from Clerks and there’s just something wonderfully joyous about it all. It’s Smith showing you everything he loves about filmmaking, reflecting on his past, filtering it through is present, and there are some moments here that are so moving that I put all my gripes about Smith’s style aside and just went with it. That doesn’t exactly make Clerks III a great movie, or even a good movie for that matter, considering there is so much dross that gets in the way of the story that is desperately trying to be told, but if you’re a Clerks fan it’s worth checking out Dante and Randal’s swan song.