TUCSON, Ariz. — If "Clerks" was the film that captured the hopes, angst, and despair of teens and 20-somethings in 1994, "Clerks III" does the same for middle-aged viewers in 2022.
It's the sort of movie that happens when a talented filmmaker rediscovers his old voice.
"Clerks III" is a slice of vintage Kevin Smith. Wickedly incisive humor, poignant themes, and a heartfelt story coalesce into his best film since the days when Smith ruled geek culture with the likes of "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," and "Dogma."
Quotable, thoughtful, and introspective, the film will undoubtedly be one of my favorites of 2022. The comedy marks an artistic renaissance for the filmmaker, podcaster, and stand-up comedian, who seems ready to enter an exciting second act as a filmmaker.
Clearly informed by his 2018 heart attack, the movie tracks Randal's ennui and fleeting passions (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O'Halloran). The men hated working as convenience store clerks in their 20s and now own the store, which makes so little money that they still have to work the front counter.
Just as they always have, Randal and Dante pass the time by bickering, commenting on pop culture, dealing with irritating customers, and ignoring them with rooftop hockey matches.
A sudden crisis causes Randal — and, by extension, Dante — to re-evaluate their stations in their lives and their goals. Randal's revelation — as was Smith's with "Clerks" is to make a movie.
Smith transforms what could have been a cheesy, meta gimmick into a stroke of brilliance. The filmmaker's story pays tribute — and unflinching critique of — to his own origins as an artist, tells a compelling story of its own, and crams in loads of fan service to boot.
Slipping into their old roles like a comfortable pair of sneakers, Anderson and O'Halloran resurrect the whip-smart repartee from the original film. Their faces are more plump and lined, but they sparkle with the same pizzazz they had in 1994.
Self-aware cameos from the likes of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Justin Long, and Sarah Michelle Gellar made me smile, and a powerful performance by Rosario Dawson as Dante's late wife, Becky, hit their emotional marks.
Smith and Jason Mewes, of course, are also back as Jay and Silent Bob, and Trevor Fehrman reprises his "Clerks II" role as Trevor, the goofy wannabe who looks up to Dante and Randal.
The greatest comedies are the most rewatchable of movies, and I have probably watched "Clerks" more times than I have any other movie.
While I didn't find the same magic in the sequel, "Clerks III" similarly speaks to me as the original. I'll be eager to come back to it again and again.
RATING: 4 stars out of 4.