Film Review: Clerks III
Director: Kevin Smith
View Askew Productions
In Theaters 09.13
What’s the difference between a movie and a midlife crisis? After watching Clerks III, it’s clear to me that Kevin Smith doesn’t know the answer.
It’s been 28 years since the original Clerks made a big splash on the indie circuit and 16 years since the dreadful Clerks II took so much of the luster off of its predecessor. The setup for Clerks III is simple enough: Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) still work together at the Quick Stop, which they bought in 2006 after taking out a loan from drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith). Sadly, Dante’s happily ever after with his wife, Becky, was shockingly short-lived when she was killed by a drunk driver while carrying their baby. Still, Dante tries his best to move on with his life the best he can, and meanwhile, Randal remains in a state of arrested development. Everything changes, however, when Randal suffers a heart attack and comes face to face with his mortality and the realization that he’s never done anything substantial with his life, and Randal decides to seize the day by channeling his love of movies into making a film about his own life. Randal pulls Dante in to produce the film, and before long the whole gang is on board.
While I personally don’t consider the original Clerks to be a great film, there’s a lot that I really admire about it. The making of a bare-bones indie feature was an entirely different ball game in 1994, when Smith shot the feature on black and white film with a cast of non-actors, and while it was crass and juvenile at times, Clerks wonderfully captured that period when you’re in your ’20s, becoming too complacent while working at dead-end jobs and putting off trying to figure out life. The film’s raw, unpolished quality accounted for a great deal of its charm. By 2006, there was nothing endearing about watching a group of guys who couldn’t act bumbling their way through a now bigger-budget film that was still technically lacking and made by a director who still didn’t know what he was doing. The romance between Dante and Becky (Rosario Dawson) was sweet and relatable in Clerks II, and it produced many redeeming moments.
In the third film, Smith is trying to mine his own near-death experience with a heart attack in 2018 for drama, comedy and a mixture of joy and pathos. On the whole, Smith succeeds at bringing all but four of these qualities to this lifeless and self-indulgent love letter to himself and his friends. Anyone who has seen Clerks knows that Randal and Dante often discuss Star Wars, and unfortunately, this gimmicky product—which is only getting a brief, limited theatrical engagement through Fathom Events before hitting video—plays more like The Clerks Holiday Special than a movie in its own right. The abundance of silly cameos and cheesy, self-consciously smirky sequences gave me the feeling that if anyone else made something like this, Smith would hate it. While Clerks III thankfully isn’t as graphically disgusting as the second film—this time only making passing references to “interspecies erotica” instead of making it a major subplot—it also doesn’t have the spark that Dawson brought with her, though she does make a brief appearance here in dream sequences. While the best moments in Clerks III are the ones trying for emotion, it feels a lot more forced and saccharine this time around, and nothing about Clerks III truly clicks.
It may be redundant to say that Clerks III is only for fans, since that’s exactly who it is made for, but I think it’s important to be clear that, in this case, it’s for die-hard, obsessive fans who will gratefully eat up anything with Kevin Smith’s name on it, and it is not those who admire the audacious accomplishments of the original film or even Smith’s more polished work, like Dogma, Chasing Amy or the underrated Jersey Girl. If you count yourselves among those who can’t get enough of the “View Askewniverse,” you’ll want to check this one out. Anyone else will likely find it grueling to sit through. –Patrick Gibbs