Wednesday, September 14, 2022


 by Rob DiCristino

Sometimes, dead is better.

Major spoilers ahead.

“What the fuck would the great Randal Graves do if he were half the master of his destiny that I’m supposed to be?” asks Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) in Clerks II’s dramatic climax. “I’d buy the QuickStop and reopen it myself!” Randal (Jeff Anderson) barks in response, queuing one of the most poignant and cathartic sequences in writer/director Kevin Smith’s filmography: His clerks — patron saints of Gen X ennui — are finally taking a modicum of control over their destinies, stepping up to the proverbial plate in the only way they know how. They’ll never be billionaire entrepreneurs, of course, but after thirty years of impotent commentary from the margins, owning and operating Jersey’s most famous corner stores feels like exactly the degree of adult responsibility these two slackers can handle. Smith closes on the pair back behind the counter — their counter— and fades to his iconic black and white, cementing his thesis that personal growth is relative to the person doing the growing.
Fifteen years later, very little has changed for our clerks. Hockey on the roof, gum in the padlocks, and so on. Though Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) have converted RST Video to a CBT dispensary, they still insist on clandestine curbside transactions that confuse patrons of the now-legal substance (“That’s how we did it in the ‘90s, yo!”). Elias (Trevor Fehrman) is still part of the gang, still catching rides from his parents and still wasting the Good Word on deaf ears. Things putter along as normal until Randal suffers a sudden heart attack, triggering an existential crisis that inspires him to make a movie based on his life of convenience. Dante, still grieving Becky’s (Rosario Dawson) untimely death, is predictably skeptical of the idea, relenting only after a vision of his lost love insists that there are still chapters of his life yet to be written. Armed with a crew of misfits and a loan from Dante’s former fiancee (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith as Emma), the clerks begin production on their working-class opus.

Smith devotees will immediately recognize Clerks III as an ode to his landmark original film, a series of thinly-veiled references to its real-life production and the cultural legacy it bore. Randal’s heart attack is clearly inspired by Smith’s own 2018 brush with death, and despite drawing heavily from Clerks’ storied development for 2008’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith returns to the cinematic womb this time to reckon with his own mortality. Death looms all over Clerks III, including an extended heart surgery scene (with cameos from Amy Sedaris and Justin Long), coffin-side conversations with Ghost Becky (who extols the joys of sex in heaven), the once-devout Elias going full atheist goth, and a second major character death that sets the stage for Smith’s final assessment of his life and career. By far the most funereal film Smith has ever made (a significant achievement in light of Dogma and Red State’s apocalyptic overtones), Clerks III wants to be a touching and introspective victory lap across a sea of warm, reassuring nostalgia.
And for many of Smith’s most ardent fans, it will be. They’ll revel in its incessant nods to View Askew lore, including the First Avenue Playhouse (where Smith’s famous friends make their perfunctory cameos), Jeff Anderson’s raccoon eye makeup, and Jay Mewes’ refusal to dance in front of the Clerks crew. Nostalgia is potent, as Don Draper once told us, a twinge in our hearts far more powerful than memory alone. It feels good to revisit Clerks, to see our old friends still banging around behind the counter, because it feeds our own need for reassurance in our personal narratives; for as much as we’ve grown, we’ve also stayed the same. And that’s great! I’m sure many viewers will enjoy that very much. But Smith has drawn from this particular well far too many times now — including just two years ago with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot — for any new insight, and Clerks III’s sloppy and disjointed attempts at theme and character reflect its multiple iterations and script drafts, the pages of which have surely been cobbled together here.

It’s also deeply unfunny, the product of an Extremely Online Gen X Dad who believes references to NFTs and The Mandalorian qualify as edgy jokes. He’s teetered on this precipice for a while now, but Smith seems to have finally been swallowed by his own circular internet echochamber, writing Clerks III as if it’s one of his Evening With monologues or an episode of one of his thousand pop culture podcasts. It’s the product of a creator who spends most of his time talking about his creations on stage, one whose more recent attempts at innovation (including the underrated Tusk) were apparently met with enough apprehension to push him back into telling safe, predictable stories that require the least possible effort. Smith goes through this every ten years or so, of course (is anyone online old enough to remember the Jersey Girl backlash?), but whereas some of his resets inspired a fresh energy (Clerks II), there’s a distinct laziness to Clerks III that leaves us wondering if Smith’s heart is even in this anymore.
Smith and many of his fans would object to this assessment, I imagine, insisting instead that he has a right to work out his issues through these characters and that there’s a neat symmetry in using them as autobiographical mouthpieces. “This is all I got in life,” he recently told an interviewer. “Lucas has Star Wars…I got my clerks.” And it’s easy to see why a middle-class Catholic kid from New Jersey would retreat to his comfort zone when forced to reckon with the chaos of impending oblivion. But despite his protestations, Smith is much more than Clerks, Clerks is much more than Smith, and Clerks III fails chiefly because it hijacks sovereign characters with completed arcs and forces them to deal with midlife crises for which they (and, with all due respect, the actors playing them) are catastrophically ill-suited to handle. Dante and Randal deserve better than Clerks III, and Smith is capable of more than its feckless pandering and false enlightenment. There’s a third act ahead of you, Mr. Smith, but it sure ain't this shit.


  1. thank you for this, i was waiting for it. i was hoping for better, but it sound like exactly what i expected. especially since Jay And Silent Bob Reboot which was also uninspired and unnecessary. i love Clerks. i like Clerks 2 and it was a perfect finale to the story of these 2 guys and their surroundings. but, i'll watch it anyway because i usually like Smith's output and i'm curious to see the final product

    1. Yeah, I didn't make it through Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. As Rob says, very unfunny.

  2. Thanks Rob! Its clear from your postings, podcasts, and videos that you have a solid history with KS and I really appreciate your well thought out critical review!

    I was gonna post my thoughts on the weekend thread but they're better suited here...probably will get wordy.....

    Clerks III (Fathom Events Night 1 Theatrical)

    Table setting: Seeing the original Clerks very very early in its art house theatrical run (1994 @ 3 Penny in Chicago) was a transformative movie going experience. That flick and its impact on indie film is well trod territory but it made me a lifelong fan of Kevin and the many facets of his creative output since. However said fandom doesnt transcend viewing his works critically.

    Clerks 3: I came out with very conflicted and somewhat surprising-to-me opinions on the movie. In trying to process them i did a little experiment where i went to my review aggregator site of choice and read full reviews from the top rated, the lowest rated, and middle rated sites. Hilariously i agreed with all of them. That doesnt do a very good job in conveying my opinions so Ill break it down here spoiler free:

    First off i think this flick is really ONLY for folks who are very much Kevin Smith View Askewniverse uber fans. However, ironically, if you fall into that group alot of this movie will be almost TOO familiar to you.
    Ill break it down into 3 parts which anyone who's seen the trailer should already know.

    1) Heart Attack (~10% movie): Kevin has told the story of his heart attack experience many times. Its really a great and funny story. Randal's heart attack in ClerksIII is virtually an identical recreation of the story. Its a fine jumping in point but nothing new.

    2) Clerks Recreation (~60%): As with above, Kevin is basically recreating the stories he's told for decades about making Clerks. It feels like a victory lap and nostalgia. That being said, i liked it more than i thought as it was fun to see SO many of the original team show up again. It feels easy and been-there-done-that, but its not without charm.

    3) Drama (30%): I think Kevin set out with items #1 and #2 above as the primary drivers but he realized it wasnt enough to make a new clerks movie (it wasnt). So he threw together a few bullet point topics to provide drama and conflict. These center around loss, grief, friendship fighting, challenges of middle age, and reflections on life accomplishments/goals. It feels scattershot, it feels forced, and upon reflection it really does a pretty huge disservice to Dante and Randal and their life story arcs.

    All that being said..and this is a huge surprise...I kinda liked the movie. Way more than i thought. Ive been thinking about it alot since watching. Like i KNOW how poorly its all written and all the melodrama is jammed in but i didnt care because i think it does bring a different layer to the story that even ill handled does give some weight and emotion. If i spend too much time digging into the weaknesses my opinion shifts WAY more negative but for now ill say i was surprised as i liked this more than anything he's done in a long time.

    Peace .n. Im Not Even Supposed to Post Here Today


    1. PS: One disclaimer. My review should be taken with a grain of salt as i (crazily) believe im a co-writer of the movie......

      So a long time ago, WAY before social media and such, I very much enjoyed the IMDB comment area. It was way less troll-ish than AICN talkbacks and a decent place to dig deeper into movies and find information. Anyhoo a few years after Clerks II came out i did a post on Kevins IMDB page titled "Clerks 3 Script" and riffed the following fan fiction:

      The plot of Clerks 3 should be that Dante and Randal discover an unknown basement storage area below the quick stop. As its a basement it would have survived the fire in Clerks 2. During the movie they find themselves accidentally locked in it for a long period of time. Gives them a chance to reflect on their lifes and what theyve done. At one point things get tense and Dante yells "We've spent our entire lifes watching movies, talking about movies, dissecting movies, shitting on movies, loving movies, to what end!?! we should just make one!!" Randal replies "thats a great idea. but what about??". At some point shortly thereafter they knock over an unopened box marked "security" and out fall a ton of old vhs tapes. They dust off an old tv/player and pop them in. The footage is black and white footage leftover from when they worked there. they start laughing and at some point Randal says "you know..this stuff is great..what if we edited it into our movie??". Final shot would be them and Jay/Bob getting off the plane at Sundance.

      Now i know its no great leap to come up with this idea. And even I was pretty much cribbing the end of Clerks 2 with having them get locked in a space and having a heart to heart. BUT i do know KS hung out on IMDB and there is a reference in C3 to shooting it in black and white to look like security footage so i suppose deep down i believe maybe he saw my silly musings at some point and maybe they played a role?

  3. I really liked it and loved seeing it in a sold out theater. Honestly thought it was hilarious. Jeff Anderson is such a good actor and probably the best person there is for Smith's dialogue and jokes. Kevin Smith just really has that magic when these characters are on the screen. There's a running gag involving costumes that is one of the funniest bits of visual comedy I've seen in a long time. Really dug the soundtrack too, opening with an absolute banger and then some songs I didnt know but have been listening since Tuesday.