Dante is put in charge of raising money for the film, auditions are held to play all the lead roles, and as filming begins, it soon becomes apparent that what Randal has written is actually the in-universe version of the original Clerks, right down to it being shot in black and white and inside the store. It’s an amusing conceit which brings Smith’s entire universe full circle.
The usual shenanigans ensue, as a parade of actors/characters from the previous Clerks films—Becky (Rosario Dawson), Elias (Trevor Fehrman), Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), etc.—show up for dutiful reprisals of their roles while the list of cameos include Ben Affleck, Justin Long, Amy Sedaris, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Trejo, and Fred Armisen, among others.
At this point, you’re either with Smith and his aesthetic or not (although even he says he lost some hardcore fans over his massively panned 2016 horror comedy, Yoga Hosers), and his catch-as-catch-can, casual approach to shooting and assembling a motion picture is either permanently endearing or endlessly irritating.
Either way, the first movie remains both his best and a genuinely funny cult classic in indie cinema, and Clerks III does manage to coast on the affection and familiarity folks have for that classic, as well as his core band of characters and performers. It also builds on that (as much as it can given Smith’s limitations as a writer and director) by channeling some of the terror he must have felt when he thought he might not make it through the night more than four years ago.
No one would accuse any of this cast of being truly top-shelf actors, but O’Halloran, Graves, Mewes, and Smith himself all inhabit their roles comfortably while Dawson and Fehrman bring the earthiness and wackiness that made them stand out in Clerks II.
The fact that no one is trying to hide their age in the movie also adds to its underlying poignancy. One has always gotten the sense that Smith just likes to get his friends together and have fun, and say what you will about his output, that feeling always seems to come through in his View Askewniverse films, even as it might get harder to put the band back together.