Clerks III (United States, 2022)

September 12, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Clerks III Poster

The original Clerks was a trailblazing mid-1990s indie comedy whose love of profanity and pop culture references made it an unlikely art house success story while jump-starting the career of writer/director Kevin Smith. Although Clerks remains amusing if watched nearly three decades after its 1994 debut, many of the jokes are tame, others have lost their humor (some as a result of shifting cultural norms), and the movie as a whole no longer seems as transgressive as it once did. The unnecessary 2006 sequel, Clerks II, has fared even worse, although the scenes with Rosario Dawson still hold together (testimony to Dawson’s acting talent). Clerks III squares the “unnecessary” aspect, dragging out a “universe” that was growing stale by the time that Smith exhumed Jay and Silent Bob for Mallrats. Smith will argue that he has brought a newfound maturity to Clerks III, imbuing the screenplay with revelations resulting from the near-fatal heart attack he suffered in 2018, but a Clerks movie (featuring a bunch of one-dimensional actors) doesn’t seem like the best vehicle for ruminations about mortality…especially amidst a flotilla of dated and unfunny humor.

Clerks III once again catches up with long-time buddies Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), who appear to be stuck in the same rut as nearly 30 years ago. Dante’s one chance at happiness – marriage to his former boss Becky (Rosario Dawson) – died with her. Her ghost occasionally appears to haunt him; those scenes are the film’s most moving and hint that perhaps, over the years, O’Halloran has developed some degree of acting aptitude. Meanwhile, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) are still hanging around selling weed. However, since recreational marijuana use is now legal in New Jersey, they’re doing it from a shop (the old video store where Randal worked in 1994) rather than in clandestine exchanges. After Randal suffers a heart attack, he decides to create a video record of his life by making a movie. When Randal’s portrayal of Dante appears insensitive, it puts a strain on the friendship.

Smith has infused this final chapter of the accidental trilogy with an odd tone. It’s a comedy that wants to be serious but has trouble finding the right pitch. And, because it’s a Clerks movie, Smith recognizes that he can’t get away from the profanity, vulgarity, and outrageousness that characterized his feature debut. But either his heart’s not in it or he has lost his sense of what’s funny because very little in Clerks III is laugh-worthy. It’s actors going through the motions. The movie also wears out its welcome with the overlong “movie within a movie” elements absorbing too much of the running time without adding much beyond the obvious nostalgia-mining.

Clerks III has something serious to say. As is true of many people who have had a near brush with death, Smith wants to find a way to use film to express some of his newfound perspective. Marrying such an existential subject with the coarse rambunctiousness of the Clerks universe creates a dissonance. Clerks III is the polar opposite of Clerks. The first movie had an infectious charm in the way it found joy in the most unlikely of places. Clerks III, despite offering messages about friendship and the meaning of life, is a downer. In fact, it’s a double-downer. Not only are the scenes between Dante and (dead) Becky wrenching but the denouement isn’t something the epilogue can rescue.

I’m not sure what Smith intended with Clerks III but I found it neither enlightening nor humorous. The characters have never been sufficiently real (as a result of the way they have been written and the amateurish performances that have brought them to life) for this left-turn into drama to work. And the script tries too hard to be funny (rarely succeeding). Looking back to the original ending of Clerks, where Dante was killed in a convenience store robbery, I find myself wishing that Smith had gone with his original instincts. That would have spared us two subpar sequels, each of which was worse than its predecessor.

Clerks III (United States, 2022)

Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Elias, Austin Zajur, Rosario Dawson
Home Release Date: 2022-12-06
Screenplay: Kevin Smith
Cinematography: Learan Kahanov
Music: James L. Venable
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Home Release Date: 2022-12-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs)
Genre: Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1