OK, people, it's a Clerks movie, you know the drill. Nearly three decades since the original, 16 years from the sequel, and … nothing has changed. There's still gum in the lock, rooftop hockey, and Jay and Silent Bob hanging out in front of the RST Video store (now the THC store, because ya gots ta pay the bills, as the local now-uncomfortably-legitimate drug dealers would have to admit). There's Chewlies gum, Nails cigarettes, Mooby's cereal, the obligatory Buddy Christ sight gag (because it's not a Kevin Smith film without his Catholic angst seeping in somewhere), and a host of buddies popping up for cameos, some of whom you may recognize in their own right and some who you may recognize because you've watched other Kevin Smith projects. And, let's get this out of the way: weakest needle drops of the series, bar a well-placed opening salvo of My Chemical Romance's "The Black Parade" and a blast of Rebuilder's "Le Grand Fromage" (arguably the second-best non-Springsteen song about New Jersey after Thursday's "Turnpike Divides").
So what possible reason can there be for Kevin Smith to go back to the Quick Stop where his film career began, literally filming at night while working shifts in the day? Well, the director's 2018 heart attack, which is transparently transposed onto … OK, and here's the surprising part. Not his established avatar, Dante (O'Halloran), but instead his loudmouthed and brash buddy, Randal (Anderson), whose post-cardiac-incident burst of life becomes a drive to make a movie based on his and Dante's life together behind the counter.
Clerks III raises (and arguably answers) the perennial question of when Smith will finally shut up the shop. After all, the Quick Stop has been the magnetic north for the bulk of his nine films in the View Askewniverse, and at a certain point the creative shelves would be bare. So this is the midlife angst entry into the franchise: Everyone's paunchy and balding, and even Clerks II's God-bothering burger slinger Elias (Fehrman) is showing his age, albeit in a series of progressively more ridiculous goth outfits.
At this point, the jokes feel strained, even if they're supposed to be knowingly referential retreads. There are so many moments designed for Smith and his friends and copious fans to enjoy that there's a creeping feeling that this movie could have been a cookout. Yet it's also genuine reminder that Smith has always been at his best when he's at his most superficial or his schmaltziest, and those moments are there – mercifully, including an oddly tearjerky resolution that answers that question about closing time, but still hews close to Smith's decades-old discussion about intimate male friendships.
Clerks is Smith and Smith is Clerks, a point made clear through a spoken word coda over the end credits that muddies the waters more than ever while explaining exactly why he wanted to make this film. Take the subplot about Dante's love life: It's a crashingly unsuccessful serious note, but it's also why Smith needed to tell this story. Is Clerks III supremely self-indulgent? Absolutely. Is it earned? Yes. Smith is still a long way from being a great filmmaker, but he's an earnest one. And Clerks III, flawed as it is, is his heartfelt farewell to the Quick Stop. Unless, of course, he really does make that Mallrats sequel he's talked about.
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