REVIEW: Smith’s ‘Clerks III’ has moments, but remains a misfire

Talk about coming full circle.

After a 16-year break, the Clerks Randal (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O’Halloran) are back on the screen, right back where we left them. The friends still own the Quick Stop store, while the adjacent video store has become a marijuana dispensary run by Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith).

The opens with the clerks doing their usual antics, until Randal suddenly collapses, which ends up being the result of a heart attack. While he does survive, it leaves him wanting to do something with his life, and he chooses to make a movie about the experiences of working at a convenience store.

This was very clearly an intimate passion project for Smith. He suffered a heart attack himself and his most recent film explores facing one’s mortality through the characters that helped launch his career. The results are mixed.

To the movie’s credit, there’s plenty of humor in the third “Clerks,” ranging from self-referential meta-comedy to the pop culture commentary that the series is known for. It produces a good amount of laughs, and spending time with these characters again is fairly enjoyable.

It’s also a movie with a lot of heart, as these characters deal with some heavy emotional subjects and there are a few scenes that are rather touching. There was genuine care put into this project by Smith.

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Courtesy View Askew Productions and Lionsgate.

That’s why it’s a bummer to say how a lot of this movie didn’t work. Perhaps the biggest issue are the creative decisions related to what happens with some of the characters.

When a filmmaker creates a sequel, there’s a responsibility to the predecessor. The movie that came before the one that’s under production means something, it establishes things and sets up futures for characters.

The fact is, some of the creative decisions by Smith in “Clerks III” negate character arcs and themes of “Clerks II,” and do so in rather upsetting ways. While one can understand what Smith was trying to get across in the film’s messaging, even at its best, these decisions, which are realized in the first and third acts, makes it out like a soap opera and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

There’s also a problem in how Randal’s film project is basically the same film that “Clerks” was. Randal casts himself, Dante, and everyone else for his movie as themselves, and the result is basically the characters from the first “Clerks” recreating a lot of those scenes.

It’s kind of cute at first, taking a trip down memory lane, but it gets old quick. It also makes sells Randal’s character arc short, as he seems less passionate about this indie film project he’s working on than he should.

It would have been fulfilling to see this character have more of a creative drive, and capture some new, untold Clerks stories in the movie instead that the audience can find relatable.

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That’s what really worked in the first film, having to deal with customers and life in general. Again, it’s understandable that Smith wanted to revisit the first “Clerks” picture, but recreating scenes from it for most of the second act just doesn’t make engaging cinema.

Acting-wise, “Clerks III” is somewhat hit and miss. O’Halloran and Anderson are both comfortable as these characters, as seen in the comedy and slice of life moments. However, there are a few scenes where O’Halloran has to do some acting that’s a bit beyond his abilities and it shows.

I feel the movie also wasted some of the rest of the cast. Trevor Fehrman’s Elias character, for example, is present for a one-note joke, where he’s converted from being a Christian to a Satanist. It starts getting repetitive fast.

Marilyn Ghigliotti also reprises her role as Veronica from the first “Clerks,” but she is barely featured in more than a couple of scenes.

As a comedy, the third “Clerks” somewhat succeeds in that the laughs are there. Yet it falls short when it comes to the dramatic elements. It was a labor of love for Smith, and there’s some good pieces here, but the whole isn’t great. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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