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Clerks III review – Kevin Smith’s meta threequel is for die-hard fans only

Unless you're already deeply invested in Clerks lore, you won't get much out of this intermittently fun but badly acted legacy sequel

Kevin Smith has never been shy about cashing in on nostalgia and self-reference – he’s interested in making movies for himself and his die-hard fans, and power to him for keeping his distinctive voice in an ever more homogenous Hollywood. It’s a niche he has filled successfully for the past couple of decades, but it’s one that ends up hamstringing Clerks III, a film so directly aimed at the long-term devotees that there is almost nothing to get from it unless you’re already an established member of the Smith Church. Obviously, that’s probably exactly what a lot of fans want to hear, but almost everyone else should steer clear.

16 years after the events of Clerks II, Smith’s threequel reintroduces us to lifelong clerks/owners of the Quick Stop Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson). With one exception, which won’t be spoiled here but does hit a very sour note, their lives have pretty much remained static, still shooting the breeze about Star Wars, their customers, and their shared history, until a massive but non-fatal heart attack lands Randal in the hospital and leads him to reassess his existence.

Obviously, Smith is drawing from his own near-death experience here but, though the film does make some gestures early on towards the transformative effect facing one’s own mortality, it’s an event that’s very swiftly pushed to the background in favour of more references and meta jokes. See, the main realisation that Randal has after almost dying is that he needs to make a movie about his own life, set within the Quick Stop – a movie that is, literally, the first Clerks (as the present day cast shoot the film, we see them transformed into their young, black-and-white selves from 1994).

It’s incredibly meta and easter egg-based in a way that will appeal to the fans but otherwise distracts and robs Smith’s script of any of the earnest emotional punch it occasionally attempts to achieve. By the time things get more real and Clerks III actually starts to attempt to tell a story of its own, it’s too late, and some really-not-great acting across the board sinks a lot of the more serious scenes.

While O’Halloran and Anderson felt entirely convincing as listless ‘90s nerds in a job they cared little about, the wider scope here proves trickier for them, though, to be fair to O’Halloran, it would take a hell of a lot to really sell Dante’s arc here, which never really convinces on the page or in practice. Naturally, Jason Mewes and Smith himself return as Jay and Silent Bob, and they get all the best gags – they’re funny highlights in an otherwise pretty drab story. Big laughs are few and far between in Clerks III, but are not entirely absent, and the insights into the nightmares of making a super-low-budget movie are funny and obviously deeply felt by Smith and his team.

With the exception of the obligatory Ben Affleck appearance, which is very enjoyable, a lot of the starry cameos here are underwhelming too, wasting the likes of Fred Armisen and Sarah Michelle Gellar. You won’t really find yourself actively disliking Clerks III but, unless you already absolutely adore this world, you also probably won’t actually end up feeling anything about it other than a little bored.

Clerks III is released in UK cinemas on 16 September.

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