If ever there was a film to inspire budding writer-directors to make a film it was 1994’s ‘Clerks’ the debut of Kevin Smith made on a credit card funded shoestring. 28 years later we have a third film in what was likely never intended to be a trilogy and Dante (Brian O’ Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) are back at the convenience store after a brief sojourn into serving fast food in 2006’s Clerks II. It’s not just the duo who are back but Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes & Smith himself) and it’s a sign of how much has changed that the video shop that was next door is now long gone and is a weed shop thought the pair of stoners still sell it like street dealers looking out for non-existent Feds who might be covertly watching them.
This third film picks up where the second film left off and brings back several notably Elias (Trevor Fehrman) initially an evangelical Christian now with how own version of Silent Bob in the form of Blockchain (Austin Zajur) and the pair run a Christian Crypto Club selling NFT’s (another sign of the changing times) and also trying to sell a job lot of Christ kites – like Tarantino, Smith has created his own universe and the kite has the ‘Get Jesus’ logo from ‘Dogma’ that caused him so much controversy. In fact the whole film references Smith’s back catalogue with Mooby’s – the fast food outlet in the second film- having product placement on the store shelves and characters not seen since the 1994 film making cameo appearances.
Randall, still shooting off his big mouth, after denigrating Elias’ belief, collapses with a heart attack, is rushed to hospital and saved by a surgeon in fancy dress (a joke carried over from the short lived Clerks cartoon series). Now with a zest for life and an awareness that he has nothing to show for his years Randall decides to write and direct a film that will be about his life as a store clerk. Clearly Clerks III is somewhat autobiographical for Smith who himself suffered a massive heart attack in 2018 and his Clerks (1994) was about his life up to that point. In keeping with Smith’s work this first act is funny still riffing on Star Wars (with a sly dig at Disney why he can’t say too much about those films now) and pop culture only less so. It’s the second act which sags as it becomes more meta with Randall recreating scenes from the first film playing on the behind the scenes stories on the first film notably recreating Jason Mewes shy reluctance to do his meme worthy dance outside the store unless the crew left the set. But the highlight of the middle section is the auditions Randall runs with a host of famous faces recreating the, ‘I’m not even supposed to be here today!’ line.
It’s the third act which is an indicator that Smith like his audience has grown up. The jokes give way to a far more melancholy rumination on the value of friends and facing up to mortality and the ending is not quite what is expected from Smith (although fans with knowledge of what he intended to do in the first film will spot what he has done) and audiences should stick around for the credits where Smith’s voiceover talks about an alternate ending that was considered. Perhaps this is a sign that he will move on to bigger themes in his work but Clerks III misses the entertainingly, albeit at times crude, profane and scatalogical, banter we’ve come to expect and enjoy from the Randall’s comic rants to straight man Dante. There’s enough jibes at the expense of other directors and also at himself but this third film is an appropriate end to what was an enjoyable if often uneven trilogy.
Watch the Clerks III trailer HERE