Same shift, different day: Clerks III review

Kevin Smith’s swan song is equally somber and stupid.


In the rise of independent filmmaking icons from the early ‘90s spanning the diverse talent of burgeoning young directors like Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino, came someone who started as a cashier in a convenience store, to becoming the man convenience store cashiers worship. That man is Kevin Smith, and whether you love him or hate him, his immense impact on DIY filmmaking can’t be understated. And if it’s any indication, he’s recently released the 3rd installment in his own franchise — set in the little store that started it all.

   It’s been 16 years since we thought we had bid farewell to Dante and Randall of Quick Stop Corner Store fame and it was 12 years prior to that, Smith solidified them into the mainstream. The success of the first “Clerks”, Smith’s vulgar directorial debut, is a perfect testament to how much a resonant story is vital to reaching the masses. “Clerks” was a ruthless, assured, and undeniably hilarious slice-of-life piece of American neo-realism that has a special place in the hearts of all the young people of the ‘90s who saw it. It was a film losers and college dropouts saw themselves in, the fact that someone just like them took the opportunity to, with a duct tape budget, make a film about the everyday corner store employee was, in a weird way, seminal for a lot of film buffs.

   Chronicling the now 30-year odyssey of Dante Hicks, Randall Graves, and the uncompromised stoner duo, Jay and Silent Bob, this indie franchise is home to a vast variety of completely believable outcasts doing absolutely nothing with their lives and making the best of it. The success of the franchise has led head-honcho Smith towards a filmmaking career spanning 14 films and counting across the three decades preceding the original film. Although, it seems you can only make so much with so little, as it’s become sadly apparent that Smith is somewhat of a one-trick pony. From creating a cinematic ‘universe’ featuring the same characters over and over again, to some relentlessly abysmal attempts at horror satire in 2011’s “Red State” and 2014’s “Tusk”, the nails in Smith’s career coffin many were shamelessly hoping for, Smith has proven to not be much of a commodity in Hollywood. None of this will stop him from changing his own image, however, as “Clerks III” proves that no matter how you feel about the old blazer in recent years, he at least sticks to his guns.

Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson get back to work, 28 years later.

   Based on Smith’s own experience with cardiac arrest in 2019, this new film begins with one of the two leads suffering a heart attack. In an attempt to relive his ‘glory days’, immortalize his co-workers, and represent their hometown in a final act of carelessness, Randall, alongside equally aged and unhealthy Dante, and the rest of the crew, stir up the budget to make a film about their days of working in a convenience store. Sound familiar? It’s no doubt that this film is an unapologetically personal swan song, and its heavy reliance on incorporating death in the plot gives the film a necessary emotional weight which gives the series a fitting conclusion. Complete with everything from the ghosts of former seminal characters to needle drops featuring My Chemical Romance, this is an unquestionably morbid film obsessed with the idea of mortality and guilt – which is unexpectedly bold coming from ol’ Silent Bob himself.

  What the film lacks in perhaps new humor, is an emotional core that has the potential to reach fans and non-fans alike. While I would’ve definitely appreciated some more emphasis on new jokes (not poor attempts at appealing to current trends), I think it’s an appropriate route to take. Very in vain of Danny Boyle’s sequel to his own breakout success, “Trainspotting 2” from 2017, another film featuring the cast of its predecessor dealing with age and the changing times, this film stares death in the face in both symbolic and abruptly unsubtle ways. While pivotal to its premise, it isn’t much to take seriously or with much grace for the matter.

   Death runs through the blood of this film and it goes off the rails on occasion simply because it’s an ambition that’s hard to meet, for a Clerks film anyway. The cast does just a good enough job, though the standout is Rosario Dawson, who also stole the show in “Clerks II”, my favorite of the franchise and Smith’s filmography at large. It’s not exactly an acquired taste, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience for those who have a deep appreciation for the characters and the setting. It’s proudly all about itself and it’s hard to regard that negatively.

  Giving the line “you’re not even supposed to be here today” a new dimension of depth, just like the original 94’ film, Smith has magically struck lightning and turned nothing into something, with the aid of his life-long comrades. Here’s to hoping that he’ll never quit doing what he loves. It may not be regarded as high art but when you look at it from the right angle, it can be a mirror to art. Art imitates life, and therein lies the questionable, undeniable magic of Kevin Smith.