Before “Clerks III” begins feasting like a Cheetos-craving junkie, the discursive punch of Kevin Smith’s return to the crassly philosophical neo-vaudeville of Quick Stop denizens Dante, Randal, Jay and Silent Bob recalls the joyful sound from a convenience store. doorbell announcing a familiar client.
Of course, that sound can also mean a way out. Existential truth weighs on Dante (Brian O’Halloran) when we learn that his love Becky (Rosario Dawson) has died since the events of “Clerks II.” (Dawson returns for a dream sequence.) But death is a more pressing concern for Randal (Jeff Anderson), who is approaching 50 years old, when he is forced to reassess himself in middle age after suffering a heart attack. Writer-director Smith survived one in 2018, and the prospect that this personal tidbit will chart unholyly funny and emotional new territory for these lovable gossips looks promising.
That is, until Randal’s energized purpose leads him to announce his goal of making a movie about his Quick Stop world, and we soon learn that Smith is about to meta-make “Clerks” again. View Askew faithful may enjoy the recreations, cameos, behind-the-scenes lore, and legacy riffs, but this universe that folds in on itself is neither fun nor enlightening about the creative process, just a self-referential checklist. At one point, Smith as Silent Bob, but really as Smith himself, despised director of artless movies, speaks to attest that he always understood aesthetics, a wink as bitterly defensive as Woody Allen’s “The First Funny” joke. from “Stardust Memories”. (By now, you’d think Smith would make a badge of honor out of naivety.)
However, when he veers to put mortality front and center again at the end, it’s a stark reminder that storytelling skill and sentimentality aren’t strong either. The grip of emotion is understandable, but it’s handled like a last-second relish. One wonders if 90 minutes of purely foul-mouthed and embarrassing exchanges about religion, crypto, Satanism, sex, aging, and pop culture franchises (what was hinted at at the beginning) would have been just as nostalgic, more real, and possibly more entertaining than The Deal. half Smith to remind us when navel gazing was indie gold.
“Clerks III” may not be the last chance for these characters, but it probably should be if their inability to make inventory much fun or meaningful is any indication. More an acknowledgment reel for a fan convention than a movie, it signals a career that has traveled far from its first evocation of serious intelligence and gritty comics about exploding little lives. Now, it is a closed circuit for fans only.
Classified: R, for general language, crude sexual material, and drug content
Execution time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In general release until September 25 via depth events