Clerks III (2022, Kevin Smith)

Clerks III starts as a series of vignettes reintroducing the characters. It’s been fifteen years since the previous entry; since then, spoiler alert, one of them has become a widower, and neither has done anything with their lives. For the first time, Jeff Anderson gets a little more to do than Brian O’Halloran, though only in the third act.

Until then, the movie’s a quick setup—Anderson has a heart attack and decides to make a movie about his life at the Quick Stop—with the actors doing their familiar banter routines, just updated a little more the times. Trevor Fehrman, also returning from II, now has his own sidekick, Austin Zajur. Director Smith reprises as Silent Bob, Jason Mewes is Jay. Everyone’s back, including ex-girlfriends Rosario Dawson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, and Jennifer Schwalbach Smith.

Many of the actors—besides Dawson, obviously, whose performance is visibly effortless compared to her costars—haven’t been in a movie since a Clerks and it shows. Schwalbach Smith is so bad I was able to identify her as the director’s wife just by her performance. No other way she’d have gotten the gig. Ghigliotti gets back into the groove quickly, though.

The funniest section of the film is while they’re making the movie. In addition to Anderson and O’Halloran, Mewes and Fehrman are around to cause hijinks, and III brings back all the actors from the first movie to play their “scenes.” It’s kind of lovely, actually, getting the same bit players back, thirty years on. The film doesn’t get sentimental about it, which is good because it goes off the rails with sentiment. The third act’s sincere, almost successful—successful to the point it saves the movie—ultimately a fail. Smith doesn’t just fumble the ending; he intentionally smashes it.

Besides that section, the second act is almost entirely scenes or montages set to modern folk rock. The first act is all nineties soundalikes (or nineties songs, I guess, I didn’t Shazam), which makes sense since the whole movie starts as an homage to that era. That soundtrack at least fits; the folk-rock? They should’ve just done a musical. Especially since there are great cameos from Melissa Benoist and Chris Wood auditioning for the movie-in-the-movie, and they both want to do it musical theater.

The other cameos are hot and cold. Amy Sedaris has a lengthy cameo where Anderson can’t shut up about “The Mandalorian,” a show she stars in, but the bits aren’t funny because Anderson’s not a nineties Star Wars nerd anymore; he’s just a regular white guy fifty-year-old. And Sedaris is bad. Justin Long’s also bad. Luckily they’re only in it for a bit.

Anderson’s good until he’s got to “come to Buddy Christ,” and then it’s not his fault. Smith can’t figure out how to write it, so it’s another montage, not even a sensical one. O’Halloran seems nervous, disinterested, and miserable to be making another Clerks for two-thirds of the movie, then has a breakout scene, but then the movie’s over.

Clerks III is, of course, a very long shot, but even as a miss, it showcases why it could’ve been a hit.

Maybe Smith’ll figure it out by IV.

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