In many ways, Clerks III is like a remake of Clerks with the characters of Clerks making their own version of Clerks only thirty years removed from the actual scenes of Clerks (1994). There’s a bit of a snake eating its own tail feeling; many scenes are re-creations of moments from the original with the same actors. It’s slightly fun to see even the smaller non-actors come back to recreate these moments, but it also makes the movie feel like an extended high school reunion or something more American Pie adjacent.
If you were not a fan of Clerks, there’s very little this film can offer you outside a respite from the nationwide heatwave. It’s not an insult to say that Smith has gotten increasingly softer as he’s gotten older, blunting much of his comedy edge. He comes across as a sincere man who really cares for the people in his life, including these very people that contributed their time and efforts in 1992 to help make a young man’s dream come true. I understand his desire to pay back all the little people, to check back with them one more time, and to have Clerks III serve as a love letter to those who were there from the very beginning. It’s not without some measure of charm and if you’re invested in this universe, the fan service will ring true.
Rosario Dawson has the most momentum of anyone in the cast, coming off the Emmy nominated series Dopesick with Michael Keaton and her hotly anticipated Disney+ series Star Wars: Ahsoka. It’s revealed within the first minute that Dawson’s character, Becky, (who was pregnant with Dante’s child and this presented a new route for his future) is dead. Not only is Becky gone but she died in 2006 from a drunk driver, which means that her unborn child with Dante also died, though this is never touched upon and that seems truly bizarre because much of Dante’s characterization in this movie will be his prison of grief he’s been unable to break from. Without more careful attention, it can come across like a schlub holding onto his grief as a mistaken form of identity. Even that description could be interesting, but you’re not going to get that level of drama in something like Clerks III.
By the end of Clerks III, it’s clear that Smith intends for this to be the concluding chapter, sending off these characters as reflections of his own film history. The focus of the final act is far more dramatic, as the act of retelling one’s life story as a movie becomes its own way of sharing the love and admiration of a decades-long friendship. I don’t quite think Smith gets to the dramatic heights he’s reaching for in the climax. Too much of the movie is like watching a low-budget remake of Clerks thirty years late. If you remember the scenes of 1994’s Clerks, watching Clerks III is like reliving them as a strange “Lynchian” dream where the edges are smudged and everything isn’t quite as it should be.
At this point, a new Kevin Smith movie is made strictly for the most diehard of fans. I can see that ever-shrinking pool of fans warmly smiling and chuckling from the movie but more in nostalgic recognition of a bygone era. Despite Smith’s intentions and affection for these people, the movie is too backward-looking and uninterested in its own comedy as Smith winds down as a big screen storyteller.