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The tragic comedy of Clerks III

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Drawing from his own life story, Kevin Smith has jammed gum in the locks of his Clerks trilogy and closed it for good. John Turnbull is not even supposed to be here today, but he shares his thoughts on Clerks III regardless.

ON 25 FEBRUARY 2018, director Kevin Smith had a massive heart attack. Aged 47 and enjoying a lifestyle better suited to someone half that age, Smith was between stand-up comedy sets at the Alex Theatre in California when he collapsed and was rushed to hospital.

After surviving what is colloquially known as a “widowmaker”, Smith was seemingly born anew, adopting a vegan lifestyle and an exercise plan that saw him lose over 20 kilograms. It also inspired the creation of a second sequel to what many still consider Smith’s greatest film, 1994’s Clerks.

For those unfamiliar with Kevin Smith’s artistic journey, it goes something like this:

  1. Shoot a movie with your friends for $27,000 (AU$42,726), inspired by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) and funded by the sale of a comic book collection and credit card debt.
  2. Manage to capture the mid-’90s slacker vibe, sell the film to Miramax (ugh) and get touted as the next big indie thing. Refer to Harvey Weinstein as a “father figure”.
  3. Make a series of increasingly competent movies set in the same universe, attracting the ire of the Catholic Church with the proudly blasphemous Dogma.
  4. Take a big studio gig with Bruce Willis and gradually lose the will to live. Start a podcast empire and complain incessantly about the studio system.
  5. Independently produce a series of increasingly awful comedies (Tusk, Yoga Hosers) inspired by stoned podcast conversations.
  6. Almost die. Make a movie about almost dying.

Which brings us conveniently to Clerks III. Reuniting most of the original cast, the film sees Dante and Randal still working at the Quick Stop, albeit now as co-owners. The video store next door has been turned into a weed dispensary, run by an alternate universe Jay and Silent Bob who have spent far too long at the cosmetic dentist and tanning salon respectively.

Look, I appreciate that Jason Mewes struggled with addiction for many years, resulting in his natural teeth being pretty nasty. Taking that into account, the visual of Jay sporting a set of massive, Cheshire Cat-style chompers is wildly distracting, not at all ameliorated by Silent Bob gurning in the background like the after shot on a cosmetic surgery poster.

Ostensibly a comedy, Clerks III really isn’t that funny. What it is, however, is an insightful and sometimes moving look at what it means to get old and face the spectre of death. By recreating his own origin story with the caustic Randal in his place, Smith reveals what most fans have been aware of for years — that he’s a bit of a dick.

If you’re a fan of Kevin Smith, there’s a lot in Clerks III that you’ll probably enjoy. It has references to Star Wars and obscure sex acts. The celebrity cameos are frequent, with everyone from Anthony Michael Hall to Sarah Michelle Gellar making an appearance, along with Smith regulars like Ben Affleck and Ethan Suplee. Special mention must go to Justin Long for earning one of the few genuine laughs in the film — payback, perhaps, for the prosthetic and narrative torture that was Tusk.

If, on the other hand, you think Kevin Smith is a hack, then there is little in Clerks III that will change your opinion.

Clerks III is available to rent on most major streaming services, but honestly, I’d wait until it’s free.

John Turnbull is a writer, balloon pilot and tattoo aficionado. For more movie news from John go to The Movie Club.

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