‘Clerks III’: Kevin Smith Relies Too Much on Nostalgia

Filmmaker and actor Kevin Smith comes full circle with “Clerks III,” the second sequel to “Clerks,” his breakthrough indie comedy inspired by his own time as a convenience store employee. Now middle-aged men, Smith, his onscreen surrogate Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Dante’s colleague Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), now co-owners of the Quick Stop, deal with heavier issues and look to legacy. The story, which is largely informed by Smith’s massive heart attack in 2018, follows Randal’s quest to make a film based on his and Dante’s experiences working at Quick Stop and the colorful cast of characters that have passed in and out of the it’s doors.

While “Clerks” was a slice-of-life film, Dante and Randal have had clear goals in the subsequent films. In “Clerks II,” they succeeded in buying and restoring the Quick Stop after a fire, and in “Clerks III, which picks up 16 years later, they set out to make a film not unlike the original “Clerks,” complete with Smith’s alter ego Silent Bob shooting the whole thing in black and white. They even recruit Dante’s ex Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) to play herself. The idea for the project comes about after Randal survives a heart attack and realizes he does not want to die being known only as a local grocer.

As for Dante, he is less enthusiastic about revisiting the past. Although he had a happy ending in “Clerks II,” it is revealed that his pregnant fiancée Becky (Rosario Dawson) was killed by a drunk driver along with their daughter (it is unclear whether or not she delivered the child) soon after their wedding. It is a dark twist that even the writers of “How I Met Your Mother” would say goes too far. Killing Becky off was not a decision made because of Dawson’s availability, as she appears in multiple scenes in which Dante’s beloved offers him support from beyond the grave. Their moments together are rather sweet and go along with the whole nostalgic feel of the film which even veers into sentimentality at times.

Despite his misgivings, Dante supports his friend, agreeing to be a producer and play a version of himself in the film and even reaching out to his jilted ex, Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach) for funding. However, the tension that has always been there between him and Randal eventually reaches a boiling point. Dante can only take so much of his selfishness, and his abrasive personality that was tolerable and even humorous in the first two films now comes off as grating as the character pushes 50.

Smith packs the film with more familiar faces, including Elias (Trevor Fehrman), the Jesus-loving teen from “Clerks II” who is now a 36-year-old virgin who explores Satanism and NFTs. There’s also Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob, who run the video store adjacent to Quick Stop that is now a weed dispensary. True to form, they are not comfortable actually seeing the drugs in the store and prefer to make discrete deals outside, as one confused customer (the always welcome Yassir Lester) finds out.

Newcomers like Amy Sedaris, who plays Randal’s surgeon, and nurse Justin Long also inject some humor, but no one tops Michelle Buteau, who plays the mother of a high school journalist whom Dante has cover the filming, and has some hilarious observations. This being a film that is full of meta comedy, she comments at the lack of diversity in the world of Quick Stop. A slew of celebrities, including Smith favorite Ben Affleck, also turn up to audition for Randal before he ultimately decides it would be easier to have his friends just play themselves.

As most of the humor in “Clerks III” is self-referential, Smith is counting on viewers knowing and loving the first two films to enjoy this one. While true fans will find comfort in the characters rambling on about obscure “Star Wars” characters and the like, the film lacks the sharp humor of the original and the hopeful energy of the first sequel. Perhaps Smith is too close to his work for his own good, but he does manage to eek out an ending that is even rather touching. Part of the reason it works is that it almost certainly closes the door on the possibility of “Clerks IV.” Some things are just best left in our memories.

Clerks III” releases Sept. 13 in theaters nationwide.