By Lynn Venhaus
“Clerks III” is strictly for fans, a View Askew production set in that Kevin Smith universe that the writer-director broke through the business with in 1994, which has been his calling card ever since – but actually has a few very adult things to say.
Following a massive heart attack, Randal (Jeff Anderson) enlists his fellow clerks Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Elias (Trevor Fehrman), along with friends Jay (Jason Mewes), and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), to make a movie immortalizing his life at the convenience store that started it all.
This third installment is the final chapter in the lives of the New Jersey guys portrayed in the award-winning “Clerks” and its 2006 sequel, “Clerks II.”
As clerks in a convenience store, the characters were neighborhood slackers with obsessive pop culture interests who dealt with bizarre circumstances and oddball customers. Their circle of friends rounded out an eclectic ensemble.
Shot in black-and-white on a very low budget, the comedy became a sensation when the burgeoning independent film scene gave rise to fresh viewpoints. Smith won the Filmmakers Trophy at the ’94 Sundance Film Festival and “Award of the Youth” and the Mercedes-Benz Award at Cannes, and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards for first feature, first screenplay and debut performance (Anderson).
The original “Clerks” spoke to Gen X’ers in a relatable way, especially those in dead-end jobs who didn’t see their dreams ever becoming realities. After “Mallrats” came out a year later, Smith cemented his role as a voice of his generation.
In “Clerks II,” set 10 years later, they wear their lack of ambition like a badge of honor. After the Quick Stop and the adjacent video rental store are destroyed by a fire, the guys work at a fast-food restaurant, Mooby’s. Dante, engaged to Emma and planning to move to Florida, falls in love with fellow employee Becky (Rosario Dawson). With help from stoners Silent Bob and Jay, Dante and Randal buy the Quick Stop and RST Video, thus continuing their journey.
The surprise outcome of the first film, in an ‘only in the movies’ way, saw Smith achieving real-world success by tapping into those hopes, dreams, fears, deep love for the “Star Wars” franchise and his encyclopedic knowledge of comic book characters and superhero/fantasy scenarios. He has made 13 feature films since then, but his career has expanded in many directions. Above all, he is an observer of fate’s strange twists.
They say write what you know, and he did. A struggling filmmaker who worked at a convenience store close to a highway gave him an endless source of material.
For this leg of the trilogy, Smith takes more events from his life, notably the near-fatal heart attack he suffered before one of his comedy appearances in 2018. Older, wiser, and healthier, his point is that you are never too old to completely change your life.
Randal’s life-altering experience of winding up in the hospital, near death, triggers his decision to be a filmmaker, convincing Dante to make his movie. They shoot it at the Quick Stop.
It’s very meta, and it knows it. The movie-making experience is a rocky one, presenting hilarious situations and revisiting some of the more controversial plot developments in the previous two.
In supporting roles, Amy Sedaris is very funny as a wacky no-filter doctor without any bedside manner and Dawson, as Dante’s beloved wife Becky.
Familiar faces are seen in cameos, with star turns from Ben Affleck as Boston John, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Fred Armisen, Justin Long and others.
But hidden in the bluster of these films is an underlying sentimental theme of pals going through the ups and downs of life together, and those ties that forever bind us.
And those schmoes that you grew up with, no matter how things turned out, are what’s important. That is ultimately Smith’s point. They may be juvenile, vulgar, and misguided, but they have a bond – which is often put to the test.
After all, Dante and Randal must confront their future – because they are grown-ups.
A quick wit and a glib tongue, Smith writes natural dialogue that’s funny and fast. You gotta keep up and pay attention.
The crude dark comedy is Smith’s wheelhouse, and he also edited and produced, besides showing up as the iconic Silent Bob character, who along with Jay, hung out in front of the store. The loitering pot-dealing pair were the core characters in three movies – “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001, “Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie!” in 2013 and “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot” in 2019.
Television shows, animated programs, video games and comic books have sprung from Smith’s prolific Viewaskewniverse. In 1999, he made the religious comedy “Dogma,” which became a controversy magnet. Although widely panned, 2004’s “Jersey Girl” is much better than expected (Seriously, Affleck, who also starred in “Chasing Amy,” and Liv Tyler make a sweet couple, Raquel Castro is adorable as young Gertie and George Carlin plays the grandpa).
With a great deal of affection and a very personal perspective, Smith concludes his saga in a satisfying way.
Do not leave until you hear the song, “I’m from New Jersey,” over the closing credits. John Gorka wrote this quintessential Jersey song in 1991, and it is so fitting here. Touche, Mr. Smith.
“Clerks III” is a 2022 comedy written and directed by Kevin Smith and starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Rosario Dawson, Amy Sedaris, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ben Affleck, It is rated and runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. It opens in theaters on Sept. 13 and runs for one week as a Fathom Event. Lynn’s Grade: B-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.