Kevin Smith in NJ for premiere of Clerks III, ‘a movie about how much people hate working’
His new release continues the story that made Smith an independent film sensation nearly 30 years ago
Brian Johnston/Asbury Park Press, Images and footage from “Clerks III” courtesy of Lionsgate
Kevin Smith is supposed to be here these days.
Smith, the Red Bank-born and Highlands-raised filmmaker, returns to his personal and professional roots with his latest movie, “Clerks III.”
The film will be presented in theaters nationwide by Fathom Events and Lionsgate 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 through Sunday, Sept. 18. Smith is also taking the film on the road for the “Convenience Tour” roadshow experience, launching Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank.
His new release continues the story that made Smith an independent film sensation nearly 30 years ago, when the original “Clerks” (1994) introduced the world to jaded Quick Stop convenience store employees Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) along with their friendly neighborhood drug dealers Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself).
Back in 2006, Smith offered a poignant and satisfying full-circle conclusion with “Clerks II,” which found Dante and Randall taking charge of their place of employment from the original film in the Leonardo section of Middletown.
But Smith always knew there was more to the story, he told the Asbury Park Press.
“I’ve been trying to make ‘Clerks III’ almost since we wrapped ‘Clerks II,’” Smith said. Smith said he wanted to return to the sentiment of a now-classic jail cell scene in “Clerks II” where Randal cracks his veneer of snark. Smith called it “one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in a movie.”
“Randal shows his true heart for the first time, instead of just being acerbic or esoteric or a wisecracker he kind of lets it out,” Smith recounted. “He’s like, ‘I’d buy the Quick Stop and re-open it myself,’ it’s just a big moment for the character, it’s a big moment performance-wise for Jeff, and I was like, ‘I would love to spend a whole movie with that moment, that guy now.’”
After an earlier and far darker iteration of the screenplay featured Randal experiencing a post-superstorm Sandy nervous breakdown, the version of “Clerks III” arriving in theaters was informed by the massive heart attack Smith suffered in 2008.
“Clerks III” finds Randal, after experiencing a near-fatal heart attack, at work on an independent film about the quirks of life as a convenience store clerk. Smith famously created the original “Clerks” while working at the Quick Stop, and he decided to return to the View Askewniverse for “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” after his own heart attack.
Smith and Randal both experienced the sort of dangerous heart attack doctors refer to as the “widow-maker,” and both of their life-saving doctors share the last name Ladenheim (Randal’s is played by Amy Sedaris of “BoJack Horseman” and “The Mandalorian.”) It’s all a continuation of the bond between Smith and Randal, a character he had originally written for himself to play.
“As we got closer to (filming ‘Clerks’), I was like, ‘I can’t memorize all this dialogue,’ so I went for the role with no dialogue whatsoever, Silent Bob,” Smith said. “But that’s why Randal has all the best jokes, because I wanted to be Randal. Thank God there was Jeff, and Jeff defines that character. So in a weird, small way I’ll never get to be Randal but now because of the story personally I did finally get to be the guy that I always wanted to be.”
While the film — Smith’s “Clerks III,” not Randal’s movie-within-the-movie — is rich with references to both View Askewniverse lore and Smith’s own life, the material remains broadly resonant.
“You can enjoy ‘Clerks’ just because it’s a workplace comedy, something that took me nearly 30 years to figure out. That’s why people connect with it,” Smith said. “I was always like, ‘How can this play outside of New Jersey? How can this play outside of Monmouth County? You only have to be from here to understand this.’
“And I didn’t realize that ‘Clerks’ is a movie about how much people hate working, and that’s universal. You don’t even have to do a retail job or work at a convenience store specifically to identify with two people, or anybody, trying to do anything but the job.”
Back to the scene
“Clerks III” is Smith’s first film since his debut to be entirely shot entirely in New Jersey, he said. By pulling up the original film on the HBO Max app on his phone for reference, Smith found himself composing shots to match those he’d filmed nearly three decades earlier, in the same locations and with the same actors. It was an experience that Smith compared to fantasy camp.
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“Within the movie, when they make their movie, it is unmistakably ‘Clerks.’” Smith said. “Part of the fun is you know their history by way of two movies, and the history that (Randal) decides to tell is literally the history from everything you’ve seen. So it’s a real best-of compilation, you get to see everybody.”
That “everybody” includes both famous View Askewniverse players returning for cameos — Ben Affleck, Justin Long and Rosario Dawson among them — as well as friends, family and former neighbors of Smith’s, including the cast of his AMC reality series “Comic Book Men” and three generations of his family.
That’s not to say that “Clerks III” is all cameos and in-jokes. It’s a story of aging, reflection and community that finds Smith trafficking in the same snarky-yet-wounded humanism that’s been the stock-in-trade for fellow New Jersey writers from George R.R. Martin to Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen to Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem.
How to get tickets:Kevin Smith is taking new ‘Clerks III’ on the road
The original “Clerks” launched the View Askewniverse, which has since grown to include eight live-action films, a “Clerks” animated series, comic books and a video game. But “Clerks III” is shot through with melancholy nostalgia and a wistfulness not seen since “Clerks II,” the last time Dante and Randal were his stars.
“At the end of the day, I feel like when I get to play with these characters I throw a bit more into it, I care,” Smith said. “I’m deeply invested in their storyline.”
“Clerks III” will be presented by Fathom Events and Lionsgate in more than 700 cinemas across the country, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13 through Sunday, Sept. 18. For tickets and a full list of participating theaters, visit fathomevents.com/events/Clerks-III.
Smith is also taking the film on the road for the “Convenience Tour” roadshow experience, launching 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Hackensack Meridian Health Theatre at the Count Basie Center for the Arts, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank. Other area dates include 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7 at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9 at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. For tickets and a full list of dates, visit clerks3.movie.