By Lynn Venhaus

“Clerks III” is strictly for fans, a View Askew production set in that Kevin Smith universe that the writer-director broke through the business with in 1994, which has been his calling card ever since – but actually has a few very adult things to say.

Following a massive heart attack, Randal (Jeff Anderson) enlists his fellow clerks Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Elias (Trevor Fehrman), along with friends Jay (Jason Mewes), and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), to make a movie immortalizing his life at the convenience store that started it all.

This third installment is the final chapter in the lives of the New Jersey guys portrayed in the award-winning “Clerks” and its 2006 sequel, “Clerks II.”

As clerks in a convenience store, the characters were neighborhood slackers with obsessive pop culture interests who dealt with bizarre circumstances and oddball customers. Their circle of friends rounded out an eclectic ensemble.

Shot in black-and-white on a very low budget, the comedy became a sensation when the burgeoning independent film scene gave rise to fresh viewpoints. Smith won the Filmmakers Trophy at the ’94 Sundance Film Festival and “Award of the Youth” and the Mercedes-Benz Award at Cannes, and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards for first feature, first screenplay and debut performance (Anderson).

The original “Clerks” spoke to Gen X’ers in a relatable way, especially those in dead-end jobs who didn’t see their dreams ever becoming realities. After “Mallrats” came out a year later, Smith cemented his role as a voice of his generation.

In “Clerks II,” set 10 years later, they wear their lack of ambition like a badge of honor. After the Quick Stop and the adjacent video rental store are destroyed by a fire, the guys work at a fast-food restaurant, Mooby’s. Dante, engaged to Emma and planning to move to Florida, falls in love with fellow employee Becky (Rosario Dawson). With help from stoners Silent Bob and Jay, Dante and Randal buy the Quick Stop and RST Video, thus continuing their journey.

The surprise outcome of the first film, in an ‘only in the movies’ way, saw Smith achieving real-world success by tapping into those hopes, dreams, fears, deep love for the “Star Wars” franchise and his encyclopedic knowledge of comic book characters and superhero/fantasy scenarios. He has made 13 feature films since then, but his career has expanded in many directions. Above all, he is an observer of fate’s strange twists.

They say write what you know, and he did. A struggling filmmaker who worked at a convenience store close to a highway gave him an endless source of material.

For this leg of the trilogy, Smith takes more events from his life, notably the near-fatal heart attack he suffered before one of his comedy appearances in 2018. Older, wiser, and healthier, his point is that you are never too old to completely change your life.

Randal’s life-altering experience of winding up in the hospital, near death, triggers his decision to be a filmmaker, convincing Dante to make his movie. They shoot it at the Quick Stop.  

It’s very meta, and it knows it. The movie-making experience is a rocky one, presenting hilarious situations and revisiting some of the more controversial plot developments in the previous two.

Jason Mewes as Jay and Kevin Smith as Silent Bob in Clerks III. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

In supporting roles, Amy Sedaris is very funny as a wacky no-filter doctor without any bedside manner and Dawson, as Dante’s beloved wife Becky.

Familiar faces are seen in cameos, with star turns from Ben Affleck as Boston John, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Fred Armisen, Justin Long and others.

But hidden in the bluster of these films is an underlying sentimental theme of pals going through the ups and downs of life together, and those ties that forever bind us.

And those schmoes that you grew up with, no matter how things turned out, are what’s important. That is ultimately Smith’s point. They may be juvenile, vulgar, and misguided, but they have a bond – which is often put to the test.

After all, Dante and Randal must confront their future – because they are grown-ups.

A quick wit and a glib tongue, Smith writes natural dialogue that’s funny and fast. You gotta keep up and pay attention.

The crude dark comedy is Smith’s wheelhouse, and he also edited and produced, besides showing up as the iconic Silent Bob character, who along with Jay, hung out in front of the store. The loitering pot-dealing pair were the core characters in three movies – “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001, “Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie!” in 2013 and “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot” in 2019.

Television shows, animated programs, video games and comic books have sprung from Smith’s prolific Viewaskewniverse. In 1999, he made the religious comedy “Dogma,” which became a controversy magnet. Although widely panned, 2004’s “Jersey Girl” is much better than expected (Seriously, Affleck, who also starred in “Chasing Amy,” and Liv Tyler make a sweet couple, Raquel Castro is adorable as young Gertie and George Carlin plays the grandpa).

With a great deal of affection and a very personal perspective, Smith concludes his saga in a satisfying way.

Do not leave until you hear the song, “I’m from New Jersey,” over the closing credits. John Gorka wrote this quintessential Jersey song in 1991, and it is so fitting here. Touche, Mr. Smith.

“Clerks III” is a 2022 comedy written and directed by Kevin Smith and starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Rosario Dawson, Amy Sedaris, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ben Affleck, It is rated and runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. It opens in theaters on Sept. 13 and runs for one week as a Fathom Event. Lynn’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus
A sentimental journey for anyone who spent any part of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s renting movies at video stores, “The Last Blockbuster” will put a smile on your face, just like the talking heads who react over a clamshell case by breaking into big grins. It is like a muscle memory, sharing that pop culture experience — and it’s fun and sad at the same time.

This documentary, directed by Taylor Morden and written by Zeke Kamm, is focused on the last remaining Blockbuster Video, located in Bend, Oregon. But then it turns into a blast from the past.

The world has moved on, but this movie reminds us of everything we associated with the home entertainment boom after Video Cassette Recorders, aka VCRs, became a mainstay in American households around 1982. The ritual of selecting movies with your children or date or friends, and then returning them in the dropbox, is chronicled here.

The first Blockbuster Video opened in Dallas in 1985, and video rentals had largely been small mom-and-pop operations until then. Now, there is just one place in the whole world where you can go to recall the past — a functioning Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon. It is all there, in the blue and yellow corporate color scheme. People are coming from around the globe, all giddy, to walk down memory lane.

The genial manager, Sandi Harding, is known as the “Blockbuster Mom.” Her family works there, so do friends, and she is responsible for many a teenager in town’s first job. She provides quality customer service as she carries on the torch. Filmmakers capture “a day in the life” as she goes about her routine. She has received international fame by being the subject of global media coverage, and estimates she has done 500 interviews.

Famous folks talk about their part-time jobs when they were in school – including actors Adam Brody and Paul Scheer – while other comedians and actors share anecdotes, including Brian Posehn, Doug Benson, Ione Skye, Eric Close and Jamie Kennedy.

Director Kevin Smith, who broke through with his 1994 indie movie “Clerks”– about guys who worked in a video store, waxes nostalgic about the video phenomenon. He wonders if video stores may return as a niche market like record stores have.

In its heyday, Blockbuster had 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees, but technology moved on, and today, there is just one, after one nearby in Oregon shuttered, two in Alaska shut down in 2018 and a location in Perth, Australia, closed two years ago.

Bend is about 170 miles east of Portland. The store used to be Pacific Video, and the owners, Ken and Debbie Tisher, are interviewed. Because it is a franchise, and they have customers, they keep the doors open.

After a series of corporate missteps – did you know Blockbuster could have purchased Netflix when it was a mail-order DVD operation? – that are detailed by the business guys, and changes in habits and the evolving marketplace, its days were numbered.

Remember “No late fees”? What were they thinking? They lost a lot of money. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and all the corporate-owned stores shut down in 2014.

Morden, who lives in Bend, began covering the store in 2017, wanting to preserve its history, as did writer Kamm.

Even in 86 minutes, the filmmakers are repetitive, and outside of people’s reminiscences and Harding’s story, there isn’t much substance.

But allow the wave of nostalgia to give you a warm glow, as the filmmakers have captured a bygone era that we now realize we miss.

Of course, Blockbuster isn’t the only corporate outfit that closed its video rental business – Family Video, the last bastion, is headed that way after the pandemic forced closing all its remaining stores (even in St. Louis, where Kevin Smith – yes, that Kevin Smith – donated money to help keep the Gravois Road one in south city afloat).

It’s certainly ironic that the company that is blamed for Blockbuster’s demise, the streaming service Netflix, added the 2020 documentary, which was on the festival circuit, to its roster March 15, and its popularity has exploded.

Recent news accounts report that the store is getting mail orders for T-shirts, stickers and face masks (all made by Bend businesses), and renewed interest.

It’s nice to see a well-intentioned film strike a chord about the community-building of neighborhood stores. And recalling how you’d discover a hidden gem because of the clerk’s recommendation – and us film critics alerting you to must-see movies.

Pop culture won’t forget our shared involvement, and like the store in Oregon, this movie conveys our collective memories, which is priceless.

Kevin Smith

“The Last Blockbuster” is a 2020 documentary directed by Taylor Morden. It stars Sandi Harding, her family, Kevin Smith, Eric Close, Doug Benson, Ione Skye, Adam Brody, Jamie Kennedy, Briah Posehn, and more. It is not rated and runs 1 hour, 26 minutes long. Lynn’s Grade: B+. It began streaming on Netflix March 15.