The 1994 comedy “Clerks” remains an indie gem – unpolished, unsophisticated and unable to be copied.
New Jersey’s Kevin Smith broke out by scrabbling together just enough wit and wisdom to make a feature film. Nothing more, nothing less.
The inevitable “Clerks II” proved a letdown, but it let Smith expand his View Askew canvas enough to warrant our attention.
“Clerks III” is a disaster, as painful as anything Smith has foisted upon us to date. And, given he previously directed “Yoga Hosers,” that’s quite a statement.
We’re back at the Quick Stop and forever clerks Dante and Randall (Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson) are still slinging cigarettes and Chewlies gum. Smith’s screenplay immediately name checks NFTs and Gen-Zers, as if contractually obligated to remind us the ’90s are no more.
Trust us. Watching this pale attempt to revive Smith’s cinematic promise gets the job done.
Randall collapses in the store early on, and only the skills of a quippy surgeon (Amy Sedaris, far too good for any of this) keep him above ground. Staring death in the face forces Randall to re-examine his humdrum life, and he settles on the one thing to give his remaining days a purpose.
He’ll direct a movie about his life behind the convenience store counter.
How hopelessly meta. How wildly unambitious. Can Smith even write a comedy without lazy meta tropes?
“The movie is packed with what the kids on the Internet used to call ‘the feels.’” Kevin Smith says “Clerks III” offers more than just comedy. pic.twitter.com/AHFwJvk7NB
— AP Entertainment (@APEntertainment) September 7, 2022
Smith could use the occasion to riff on Hollywood, 2022 style, but he’s been doing a less ambitious version of that for, well, ages. Think “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” and “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.”
He’s got nothing left to say. Literally nothing.
It doesn’t stop him, though, from stringing together an impressive string of comedically comatose quips and sight gags. It’s vulgar, of course, but without a scintilla of wit or naughtiness.
The screenplay mentions ‘woke” briefly and how the story lacks “diversity.” More cultural box checking, done oh, so briefly and without an ounce of wisdom.
What Smith really wants is to celebrate these characters and set them up for an increasingly maudlin story arc. There’s little interesting here, either, but it’s a respite from the forced antics and recreation of past “Clerks” scenes.
Yes, the film-within-a-film replays moments like the salsa shark, the Pringles can stuck on a customer’s hand and more. There’s little reason to watch this over the original “Clerks.”
Has a director ever screamed, “I have nothing left to say. Nada. Zilch” louder?
And then we have Smith’s cameo parade, suggesting he’s a pretty nice guy off screen who build a Rolodex from extreme loyalty.
Rosario Dawson returns, in a way, and the light she brings to the project proves how much she’s needed in a vehicle like this. Suffice to say she’s not given anything to do or say that’s worthwhile.
There’s literally one sequence that pops. One. It catches us by surprise, delivers a jaw-dropping smile and makes you remember the wit Smith flashes in his chatty live appearances.
Even Jay and Silent Bob, scene stealers of the first order, can’t make us grin this time ’round.
Need more comic fails? There’s a running gag around kites and one about a devout Christian who becomes a Satanist. Both are even more depressing than they sound.
Smith’s directorial career is a mess, but there are intriguing moments scattered about. “Tusk” is genuinely creepy and raw, while “Red State” is a competent thriller with a glint of social messaging.
Part of the problem is that the “Clerks” mojo has been co-opted by countless YouTubers. They dissect minute elements of “Star Wars” and other pop culture titles, so the Randall/Dante musings are no longer fresh.
“Clerks III” probably costs as little as any sequel could. And that’s perfectly fine. The cast members remain rough around the edges, too.
Once upon a time Smith made something wonderful from similarly raw materials. “Clerks III” shows he can’t do the same any more.
HiT or Miss: It’s hard to see even Kevin Smith fanboys thinking “Clerks III” is anything but the year’s sorriest sequel.