New Jersey is a magical place. For those who aren’t from the Garden State it’s impossible to explain how the pork roll egg and cheese capital of the world is truly a glorious place full of lost and talented souls. In order for this review to not seem completely biased let’s get this out of the way now. Not only am I from New Jersey I absolutely love nearly everything that comes from this state, and that includes Kevin Smith. A product of Red Bank in Monmouth County New Jersey, Smith has become synonymous with Jersey as well as the indie DIY filmmaking scene of the 90s. For those unfamiliar with Smith or think Jersey is only known for Snooki and the Situation (also so what if it is Jersey Shore fan to the day I die! But I digress) Smith broke into the independent world with his 1994 cult classic CLERKS. Made for only $27,000 (financed by Smith himself maxing out his credit cards) the film takes on the life of two Monmouth County convenient store slackers Dante (Brian O’ Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson). Two mid twenty year old’s who would love their job “if it weren’t for all the fucking customers.” The film spoke volumes on the life of the Gen X east coaster who is more focused on losing themselves and never fitting into conformity. A generation that felt lost and claims to still be forgotten in a time when millennials and Gen z make TikTok’s ridiculing one another. This is just one of the reasons Smith’s CLERKS and many other films that followed continues to speak to his fans and allow them to feel seen. Not to mention much like Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Frank Vali Smith put Jersey on the map forever. He’s a goddamn rock star to Jerseyians selling out road shows and standup routines throughout the state. Now this doesn’t mean that during the course of Smith’s career all his films have been winners. In fact unlike today’s “Stans” Smith’s followers will easily let him know when he fucks up in their minds. It’s practically a running gag in Smith’s works when he references his own failures (sometimes even in another failure itself) but much to his Jersey resilience (and tons of money) Smith keeps bouncing back and his fans storm the scene.
Enter his latest and probably most personal film CLERKS III. A film that literally took an encounter with death to see the light of day. You see back in 2018 Smith, after performing a standup show, suffered from what is known as a “widowmaker” a 100% blockage of the heart. With only a 20% survival rate Smith thankfully became one of the luckier statistics. But life changes after near death. Projects get put on hold, life gets re-evaluated and friends who you’ve lost touch with or broke apart from suddenly seem like the most important people. CLERKS III is what happens when all those old friends come back and you try to mend any open wounds. This reunion includes franchise staple O’ Halloran’s Dante and Anderson’s Randall. Obviously it couldn’t happen without them and it even allowed for Anderson and Smith to fix some much needed personal issues. Also returning from 2006’s Clerks II is Rosario Dawson as Becky (Dante’s now wife), Trevor Fehrman’s Elias (a Jesus loving, lord of the rings obsessed man child and Randall’s punching bag) and finally and of course Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith respectively). These two have been the glue that has held all of Smith’s View Askewniverse films. For those who missed Clerks II (fix that) the film ended with Dante and Randall leaving their jobs at fast food chain Mooby’s to buy out the Quick Shop and video rental store to live out their dream of just being with their best friend and mocking anyone in sight, It seemed like things were settled so why return? Well Smith known for always entering his own life into film needed to bring his stroke with death into celluloid heaven. But before all that Smith knows he’s bringing us back to what fell in love with him in the first place so he opens up his film with a dynamic montage sequence that is almost too good to spoil but just know it literally starts off on the right note and any pop punk fan is in for a treat.
The fun can’t last forever though and while Dante, Randall and Elias are still spending their days belittling customers, referencing movies and longing for the past there is a darkness right around the corner. This comes in the form of a heart attack that nearly takes Randall’s life. A widowmaker to be exact. With Randall having a new outlook on life and Dante nearly losing his best friend (after another personal tragedy) they find the perfect way to cope. Randall will finally stop talking about movies and finally make one. Dante as his producer and their friends working as crew members a script comes along that can only be described (and eye rolled) as meta. Randall wants to make a film about his and Dante’s life in the Quick Shop. Yes Randall will be making CLERKS in this universe. What seems like just pure fan service and nostalgia reliance is quickly realized as less wink wink and more a thank you and apology letter from Smith to his fans. A thank you for coming on this journey and an apology for anytime he turned his back on us. It is also just flat out hysterical. From antics involving Randall wanting to be the main focus to Jay being a terrible actor with extreme stage fright. It’s all silly fun that will have any Clerks fan (and newcomer) stricken with the giggles. The film also knows times have a changed. One particular hilarious moment features Jay and Silent Bob trying to pull of a drug deal involving vapes not realizing all of this is perfectly legal and requires no sketchy behavior. It would also be disrespectful to talk about CLERKS III without mentioning the terrific musical cues Smith has lined up, many featuring some beloved Jersey artists themselves. Smith has practically homed in the Scorsese style of music mixing with this film where almost every scene is driven by one song or another. The film does rely on one thing though and that is the love Smith hopes his fans still have for him. Whether it’s through using real and recognizable Jersey locations (shout out Red Bank’s Gianni’s) or bringing back some old and familiar faces (seriously you won’t believe who returns) Smith wants his fans to always be reminded that he loves us. The way Dante and Randall bicker and love one another Smith recognizes we do the same with him.
On a more personal note (yes I’m going there) it is often hard to see a Smith film, especially one based or filmed in Jersey and not remember the impact his films have had on my life. A proud New Jerseyian myself, my weekends where spent at his local comic bookstore “Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash” and nights were spent with friends wondering when we were going to get out of this place only to find ourselves right back riding the Garden State Parkway counting the minutes until we hit our home’s exit. It was Randall and Dante’s conversations that proved to me not wanting to fit into the norm, while also being a total slacker who was actually quite intelligent was a true way of life. To accept my faults and all while ridiculing any customer that came into my own life. So maybe it is this notion that makes CLERKS III hit so hard when Smith’s full intentions come into play. The film much like its two previous installments uses its third act to hit you with plenty of feels. But not just in a third act cry session, but also causing you to look back at the first two acts of your life and see them for what they really are; a damn good time. This is eloquently seen in bother O’ Halloran and Anderson’s performances. Anderson quickly falls back into the arrogant, vulgar but lovable Randall with ease but this time with some battle scars and the mockery of pretending to not care about anything has faded over the years. Anderson excels at bringing Randall’s age to the forefront and showing how terrifying it can be when you realize you are not immortal (even if took fifty years to realize that). O’Halloran as Dante is on a whole other level this time around. Smith’s films may have been born out of first time actors but they are strangers to some excellent performance work (see Chasing Amy and Dogma for some excellent examples) but O’Halloran may have given the best performance to come out of the Askewniverse and one of the best of the year so far. Dante is damaged when it all begins, and while the journey throughout the film never gets easier there is such a hope portrayed by O’Halloran that it rips you apart when it all comes crashing down. Here is an actor who like his character has had decades to build up what he wanted to say so when it comes time to finally unload the results may be too catastrophic to handle. A perfect odd couple hellbent on destruction.
As Dante and Randall’s time in the Quick Shop seems closer to an ending it speaks as a reminder to not let time get away from you, and to not spend it pushing others away. Instead CLERKS III wants you to come home. To hit up those old friends and finally be able to say, “fuck it lets finally make the damn movie!” To live those dreams that were talked about on those long nights. Smith who has lived in California and has raised a family out there continues to find himself coming back home, much like many lost souls that have left this state. We all return one way or another, sometimes it is already too late and we find ourselves saying goodbye to those we once loved, but others get a second chance. They are the Randall; they get a round two and their film can finally be made. So amongst all the weed, Mooby’s burgers and annoying customers there still lives that young person who has a dream and a best friend. If they don’t share their story today when can they? Smith’s film is as hopeful as it is heartbreaking and succeeds in not only making Clerks one of the best trilogies in film history, but also proving that Jersey is both the journey and the destination.
CLERKS III will be released in theaters through Fathom events September 13-18. You can also catch it on the Convenience Tour throughout the country.