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Stream It or Skip It?

Voted Most Likely to Prompt One to Google “Is Weed Legal In New Jersey?”, Clerks III finds filmmaker and Gen X renaissance man Kevin Smith returning to his roots by making a movie that’s essentially about him making his first movie. His characters in 1994’s Clerks – convenience-store guy Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and video-store guy Randal (Jeff Anderson) – were essentially analogues of his own goofy experiences as a retail counterboy, and in their latest saga they pick up the helm again when they decide, well, to make a movie about their goofy experiences as retail counterboys. Oh, and after Randal has a life-threatening heart attack, mirroring the one that Smith endured in 2018; so many parallels and inspirations. So is the third Clerks go-round a profoundly ouroborosian narrative or navel-gazing self-indulgence?


The Gist: The Quick Stop still stands and the shutter locks are still jammed up with gum, much to Dante’s chagrin. But they’re his jammed-up locks, as he and Randal now own the place. Next door, RST Video has been converted into a cannabis dispensary owned by serial stoners Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), but they still partake in shifty-eyed transactions out front on the sidewalk because old habits die hard. Dante and Randal still close up shop to play hockey on the roof, and everyone still appreciates the mellifluous sounds of King Diamond. You know what they say – the more things change, the more likely you are to parrot a cliche.

As Dante and Randal’s uberChristian employee Elias (Trevor Fehrman) and his buddy Blockchain Coltrane (Austin Zajur) tout their NFT-Jesus-kites endeavor and convert to Satanism, some legit Life Shit happens to them: Randal lands in the hospital thanks to a major cardiac event, and while he’s worrying about the doctors seeing his abnormally small penis as they go up through the groin to put stents in his blocked artery, Dante flashes back to when his fiance Becky (Rosario Dawson) and their unborn child died after they were hit by a drunk driver. So life for them hasn’t been all Star Wars arguments and stocking the milk cooler – although it’s pretty funny that Amy Sedaris plays Randal’s doctor, and she admits to not knowing a damn thing about The Mandalorian. Get it? Because Amy Sedaris actually stars in The Mandalorian? This is what you call “metatextuality.”

Thankfully, the text scrawled on a sheet hanging outside the Quick Stop soon reads I ASSURE YOU, HE’S ALIVE. But Randal isn’t necessarily the same man anymore. Brushes with death tend to make a person reflect on themselves and their legacy. So he decides to make a movie called Inconvenience, about all the goofy, mundane quasi-adventures and conversations he and Dante have experienced at the Quick Stop over the years, pushing a reluctant Dante to be the producer. After unfruitful cast auditions (cue a bunch of celebs in cameos reiterating “I wasn’t even supposed to BE here today!”), they decide to play themselves, as “Dan T.” and “Randy,” with Silent Bob as their somewhat pretentious cinematographer. And so they go on a nostalgia trip, filming scenes with the Salsa Shark and Dante’s ugly sweater and the weird guy with the eggs and Jay and Silent Bob dancing, you know, all the stuff you remember so well because you watched Clerks a couple dozen times in the mid-’90s.

Clerks III
Photo: Prime Video

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Clerks. Clerks III reminds me of Clerks, a whole hell of a lot. Almost to the point where I wish I’d rewatched Clerks again instead. However, it doesn’t remind me of Clerks II, because most everything about Clerks II was forgettable.

Performance Worth Watching: You won’t be surprised to learn that Sedaris steals her scenes with the crisp comic timing of an old pro among relative amateurs.

Memorable Dialogue: Justin Long, not a walrus this time, drops in to play Randal’s nurse: “As the wife says after Dateline every single week, ‘Take off your pants.’”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: You can’t question the earnestness of Smith’s sentimentality. He had a heart attack and now he wears that patched-up heart on his sleeve. That and Clerks III’s blend of remixed and reenacted greatest-hits moments, Smith’s signature crude-talk dialogue and a bevy of easter eggs undoubtedly will please his faithful fans. His fans, who’ve not only supported him through nine View Askewniverse movies and the unconventional road-show distribution and presentation of the last couple (Clerks III and 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot). His fans, whose devotion made reality series Comic Book Men last seven seasons. Seven seasons. Do not underestimate the power of this entertainment franchise’s devoted fans, for they will make sure something as annoying as Comic Book Men lasts way longer than it should.

As for the rest of us, well, Clerks III is rougher sledding. I speak as someone who grew weary of – grew out of? – sight gags featuring baseball-bat-sized marijuana cigarettes, deep dives into the latest Lucasfilm property and jokes that were becoming increasingly self-referentially niche (but not the King Diamond references. King Diamond references are forever gold!). This universality of Clerks – its retail-hell comedy, its pop-cultural hyper-awareness, its bootstrap cheapness and underdog status – makes it a key piece of 1990s film culture. Smith tried broadening his point-of-view with poorly received movies like Jersey Girl and Cop Out, and found his sensibilities ill-fitting with mainstream Hollywood.

So he turns inward with stuff like Clerks III, playing to his base. He surely feels the need to acknowledge the level of devotion he’s inspired for nigh-on 30 years, reflecting on the ravages of age that everyone inevitably suffers, even those in a state of perpetual dick-joke arrested development like Dante and Randal. Feeling vulnerable really isn’t part of the tapestry of youth, but here are these two lifer clerks, contemplating mortality. And the twist is, the young Smith made Clerks to prove himself, and it became the legacy he’s now drafting on, while middle-aged Randal wants to make Inconvenience so he can leave something behind besides an elbow-dent in the cash-register counter – and as a paean to his lifelong bro-love for Dante.

Smith’s reasons for making Clerks III are sound. As for his execution, well – the Star Wars/Lobot bit is funny, Long and Sedaris make the most of their bit parts, Dawson’s easygoing presence makes scenes between Dante and her character’s ghost go down easier than they should and “NFT Jesus kites” is a fine bit of throwaway satire. Otherwise, the comedy is more miss than hit, the break-up-and-make-up dramatic arc is tired, Jay and Silent Bob’s antics are wearisome, the speech-reaction shot-speech-reaction shot direction is clunky and the cast, amiable as ever but as limited in their range as ever, struggles to sell the heavier emotional moments. Only Smith’s fans will feel the need to be apologists for this stuff.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Clerks III puts the hash in rehash. Its lukewarm reminiscences will please the faithful, but beyond that, you’re likely better off watching Smith’s earlier, stronger work.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at

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