In the early 90’s Kevin Smith maxed out his credit cards, sold the majority of his comic book collection, and decided to make a movie. He put all of his chips on the table to make a dialogue-driven black and white film called Clerks, set in the convenience store in which he was working. It was a film that consisted of nothing but raunchy conversations, with the mere suggestion of a story.
By some miracle he hit it big with Clerks, and managed to make a career due to its success.
Now, 28 years later, Smith has arrived back at that convenience store for another movie. Is Clerks III a triumphant return for those fans hoping for a new chapter in the lives of Dante and Randal? The short answer is no – it’s terrible.
I assure you, I’ve got a lot to to say about this flick.
This review contains mild spoilers
Clerks III is available in limited cinemas and via a roadshow in select locations with the cast.
Story: Relentlessly Depressing, Astoundingly Unfunny
Clerks is the definition of a cult classic. Clerks II was a surprisingly heartfelt sequel that expanded on the original movie, finally giving it some story to hang its humour on. It was a fitting end for those characters. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) renewed and redefined their friendship, bought and rebuilt the Quick Stop store that they realised meant so much to them – and Dante had a wife who was pregnant with his child. Life had finally begun for the two slackers.
Cut to Clerks III and we learn, via an insert shot of a memorial poster, that Dante’s pregnant wife Becky (Rosario Dawson) has died – and not only that, she died very shortly after the denouement of Clerks II. Kevin Smith must have gone to the Alien 3 school of sequel openings.
The happy ending and positive resolution to the previous movie no longer exists. Any progression that Dante could have had was immediately stripped away after the credits rolled, and not only that, he’s been a grieving wreck for the past 16 years. This is the first taste of the overwhelmingly depressing tale that the film has to tell, and it only goes downhill from there.
Just like the director unfortunately suffered himself, a case of writing what you know, Randal has a near fatal heart attack. This becomes the impetus for him to create a movie about his own life. If you were hoping for a fun-filled, happy-go-lucky film about friends making a movie at the store where they work, then I’m afraid you’re in for nothing but disappointment.
Every plot point is dark and demoralising, every joke is rehashed and reused.
Direction and Story Issues: Where to Begin?
This is not a comedy movie – I’m not positive that it’s trying to be.
The lazy and contrived jokes about NFTs have cutaway gags to punctuate them. These are certainly supposed to be funny, as are the parts with Randal’s insecurity about his penis size. They just don’t land. Overwhelmingly, though, the main attempts at humour are call backs to previous films in Kevin Smith’s filmography. Imagine the same jokes you’ve heard before, from the other films, being told worse, and by people too old to be making them.
The direction and sound mixing show a lack of faith in the script. The background music is played too loud and too often. There is a large portion of the film dedicated to remaking scenes from the original Clerks. These shot-for-shot remakes somehow have worse cinematography than when Smith was a novice filmmaker.
It’s all shot in a way that makes it look like a low budget Disney teen sitcom. The character of Elias’s whole purpose is to wear a different gag outfit in every scene he’s in.
I have a lot of reverence for the original Clerks and its sequel. I appreciate that may not be apparent from the tone of my review, but it’s true.
The Convenience Tour: Distributing a Film to Fanboys
The buzz from the initial screenings was palpable to a fan like me. I was dreading seeing the film as I followed the production. This was for a number of reasons; such as the lack of the original producer Scott Mosier. Ultimately, the main factor for my trepidation stemmed from a recent string of terrible films from Smith himself.
However, the feedback from fans at the screenings was overwhelmingly positive, and my reservations were somewhat quelled. Having seen the film, I somewhat understand this now.
I was in a cinema screening and you could have heard a pin drop. I didn’t hear a single chuckle during the supposed comedic moments, nor any reaction to the film’s forced drama. I’m convinced that the fan reception is not authentic. It’s a relief to read other reviews from critics that echo my sentiments on the quality of the film.
Imagine you have a favourite film series that’s getting a sequel. Imagine this new film is being distributed via a roadshow, with the director and cast attending, complete with a 3+ hour Q&A session afterwards. That’s Clerks III. A room full of fellow fans followed by a long dialogue with the director and cast, all to help convince the fans that they have seen something good. This is The Emperor’s New Clothes fable in film distribution form.
I may be off base – it’s entirely possible I am, but this is the only way I can fathom the positive response that fans have been giving this film.
Clerks III: Out of Touch, Out of Ideas
Clerks III is filled to the brim with references to ‘The View Askewniverse’, the shared world that Smith’s films are set in. The whole film seems to exist for fans to say, “I understood that reference”. Recognising things is not comedy. Having sad things happen with no weight is not drama.
Imagine getting bludgeoned into submission by meta references. That’s Clerks III.
When I see a bad film I can often point to ways it could be improved, but I see none of that here. If you want out-of-touch jokes about NFTs and cryptocurrency, delivered by unlikeable characters who are caricatures of their previous portrayal, then this is the film for you.
As a fan, I say stick to the first two films and the short lived animated series.