Clerks III review: everything must go…

Clerks III
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Kevin Smith returns to the Quick Stop for a nostalgia-heavy trilogy topper about mortality and moviemaking – here’s our review of Clerks III.


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One of the masterstrokes of the short-lived but superb Clerks: The Animated Series is the hilarious clip-show episode. Locked in the freezer at Quick Stop Groceries, Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall Graves (Jeff Anderson) reflect on their lives through previous clips in the time-honoured sitcom filler fashion. The trouble is, this is only Episode 2 of the series, so most of the clips are from earlier in the same episode or the week before.

Clerks III made me think about this a few times as it went on, partly because we finally see the Quick Stop freezer in live action at one point, but mostly because two decades on from that show, Dante, Randall, and indeed Kevin Smith himself seem similarly contemplative mood, if far less animated.

Reconciling the monochrome drudgery of Clerks and the sunshine-on-pastels sequel Clerks II, this third film kicks off with our unlikely heroes co-owning and running the Quick Stop, when Randall suffers a “widow-maker” heart attack in the course of his daily slacking and shit-talking routine.

After life-saving surgery, the eternal clerk has an existential crisis and decides to make something for once. Specifically, he wants to write and direct a movie about his life working in the Quick Stop, casting his buddies, shooting after hours and… well, here at Film Stories, we recognise a film story when we see one.

It’s very much a movie about making Clerks, with all the meta-gags and self-reflection that suggests. Unavoidably, this return is also motivated by Smith’s own real-life brush with the widow-maker in 2018.

It’s not his first film since that happened, but where 2020’s Jay And Silent Bob Reboot was a broad, frivolous View Askewniverse reunion piece, this is more like one from the heart, if you’ll excuse a broad and frivolous observation. With far more to reflect upon than their cartoon counterparts, both Dante and Randall have mortality on their minds.

Though a notable holdout over the early drafts of the threequel, Anderson takes to this version of the story with gusto, playing up the pathos as much as the motormouth routine we expect – getting the best jokes in the first one and the bravura third-act epiphany in the second one, he’s always been Smith’s surrogate character and so it scans that he’s the star of the show this time around.

Anderson is still the stronger performer of the two, but O’Halloran holds his own too, as the ever-frustrated Dante’s latest personal crisis is spurred by Randall’s medical emergency. It’s easy to undervalue a good straight man, and he’s as good in the exasperated cut-and-thrust of arguing which Star Wars character he is to Randall’s Han Solo as he is in the more emotional scenes that come with this more mature threequel.

The main thing that it has in common with Reboot is the “gang’s all here” casting. There’s a deep reserve of glee in wheeling out actors (and non-actors) from Clerks throughout, plus a welcome return for Trevor Fehrman and Rosario Dawson from Clerks II, and a rolling cameopalooza of newbies that comes to a head during auditions for the movie-within-the-movie. Likewise, the in-jokes come thick and fast, largely recognisable to those who are familiar with Smith’s speaking engagements, podcasting, and flat-out filibustering outside of the movies.

But callbacks aside, that cast is on fine form too. Jason Mewes adorably re-enacts his own uncertainty as first-time actor Jay, while Smith’s Silent Bob gets chattier than usual about his filmmaking craft. Fehrman practically gallops with the absurd running gag of “born-again Satanist” Elias discovering the joy of costume changes. And in more of an extended cameo this time around, Dawson once again uses her universal compatibility with everyone else on screen to glorious effect.

Assuming nobody’s coming to Clerks III who doesn’t want to see another Clerks movie at this point, we reckon it’s a decent return. Smith has never held himself as loftily as Randall does here when he proclaims himself “retail’s Richard Linklater”, but maybe the scheduling of the sequels makes Clerks his over-the-counter Before trilogy. Except for this one shedding the customary all-in-one-day story structure that Jesse and Celine share with Dante and Randall, it might be an more apt comparison.

As well as simply checking in with these Gen-X’ers another decade or so down the line, this takes some big swings – whether it’s in the surprising song choice for the opening montage and title sequence, or the eventual premiere of Randall’s autobiographical opus – that elevate it above mere self-indulgent fan service.

Granted, there’s nothing as funny here as the best bits of Clerks nor as revelatory as Clerks II, but if you’re inclined to pop back to the store, then we assure you – Clerks III is worth the trip.

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