Kevin Smith and the Audacity of 'Clerks III'
“Being Kevin Smith is my favorite thing in the world. My life became one f***ing weekend the moment Clerks got bought at Sundance. I don’t have a job. I don’t even have a career anymore. I’m just me for a living. Clerks should have been a flash-in-the-pan, flavor-of-the-month, one-hit-wonder movie, but I’ve been able to parlay it into a whole career. I’m just trying to figure out one more way to extend this permanent vacation I’ve been on for twenty-five years.”
In last year’s Kevin Smith’s Secret Stash, the comedy filmmaker took a victory lap, celebrating the very Kevin Smith-iness of being Kevin Smith. And last week, after much social media drum-rolling, the carnival barker behind Silent Bob dropped the trailer for Clerks III, a sequel arriving 16 long years after Clerks II, which itself came out 12 long years after the original Clerks.
Give the man his props -- this trailer takes “being Kevin Smith” to a whole new level.
Yep, that’s Dante and Randal still behind the Quick Stop counter, now with thinning hair and sturdy dad-bods lurking beneath their hockey jerseys. (“We don’t hide the age. We don’t Hollywood it up,” says Smith. “We all look as old as we look.) But rather than dealing with the daily ins and outs of convenience store life, Clerks III takes another page out of Smith’s real life: Namely, his 2018 heart attack.
Now it’s Randal suffering the chest-grabber, finding himself in the hospital and re-examining a life perhaps wasted watching crummy movies like Ranger Danger. Then Randal has a flash of inspiration: He’ll make his own movie! You know, about clerks! He can cast those derelicts selling drugs outside the store, Jay and Silent Bob!
As a young customer observes: “Meta.”
To say the least. The Clerks III trailer is a comedy snake that somehow manages to eat itself and stage-wink at the audience all in a minute and 54 seconds. You might need a Clerks almanac to completely decipher the preview, which is essentially a collection of greatest-hits throwbacks to Smith’s original films. In one scene, Dante argues that he shouldn’t get killed off in the third act in case there’s a sequel.
“A sequel??” asks Randal. “What am I, a hack?”
What Took So Long?
We should have seen Clerks III by now. But, you know, stuff happens. Like pandemics and heart attacks.
But those weren’t the only hold-ups. Smith had an approved $8 million budget a few years back to complete (?) the trilogy, but the project was held up by the reticence of actor Jeff “Randal” Anderson. As Smith explained on the “Fatman on Batman” podcast:
"One of the four main characters did not want to be involved. It quickly spiraled out of control in a big, bad way, and wound up not happening and probably could never happen after the stream of events that hit a wall, and sometimes that's a wall you can't get over.”
And that was that, until Smith ran back into Anderson a few years later at a signing. Smith was just coming off the “time of my life” making Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and he was jazzed to see his old friend.
Anderson apologized for being such a pain in the booty over the failed Clerks III, surprised that Kevin even wanted to speak to him. But it was Smith who offered a mea culpa: “You weren’t getting paid enough and that was my fault.” The director promised to find more money and do it the right way. Anderson was game, asking “Well, are we going to do the same story?”
Smith’s original Clerks III script saw Dante and Randal leaving the convenience store behind to work for a monstrous fast-food chain. (We’re guessing Mooby’s.) The film would have been “about everything breaking down,” Smith says. “It was the King Lear of Clerks movies.” In other words, Smith intended the movie to be about middle age and dying. The problem was it was written by someone “who hadn’t tasted it yet.” Cue the heart attack. And the new plot.
“Jeff goes, ‘Where you come up with that idea?’” remembers Smith. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, it just came to me one night.”
The always-sunny Smith has no regrets, about the delay or the heart attack. “If I went back in time to talk to the young Kevin Smith, I wouldn’t tell him to change his eating habits because even that works out in the end.”
The Clerks movies were always autobiographical. As Randal explains in the new trailer, "Everything in this script is something either me or someone I know said." But the self-referential storytelling has never been so jokey. The original (recently preserved by the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress) certainly didn’t arch an eyebrow at the audience, inviting it to laugh at all the View Askewniverse in-jokes. But that was before Smith was firmly in the business of being Kevin Smith.
Is all that meta-on-meta a good thing? Depends upon your askew view. Clerks III doesn’t look to be high art, but somehow, the trailer is still a lot of fun. We dare you not to smile anytime Jay Mewes is onscreen, and the obligatory Ben Affleck cameo made us shake our heads in amusement. And who knows -- given the subject matter, maybe Clerks III will carry unexpected gravitas. A near-death experience will do that to a guy.
As per the usual, Smith will take his hustle act on the road this fall (it’s the Clerks III Convenience Tour!), allowing moviegoers in select cities to score an autographed screenplay and a selfie with the man himself. “As long as you keep the bar f***ing low, you can have a life full of accomplishments,” Smith promises. “And that’s what I do.”
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Top image: View Askew Productions