Producers: Liz Destro and Jordan Monsanto   Director: Kevin Smith   Screenplay: Kevin Smith   Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Austin Zajur, Jason Mewes, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Marilyn Ghigliotti and Kevin Smith   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: C

It may be difficult for some to believe, but after nearly thirty years the characters from Kevin Smith’s scruffy, irreverent first feature “Clerks” are still cherished by die-hard fans, who have followed them through a sequel and occasional reappearances in Smith’s other pictures.  Now the writer-director offers “Clerk”ers what he describes, in a monologue delivered over the closing credits, as a thank-you for their support, a third opus set at the New Jersey convenience store where it all began, reassembling the casts of the first two pictures, along with lots of Smith’s friends, in what’s obviously a fond farewell.

The result is a mixed bag.  For devotees seeing it will be a no-brainer (which is a term that might be applied to the movie itself).  For more objective observers, it will be not only evidence that for all his years behind the camera, Smith still hasn’t mastered some of the most rudimentary aspects of filmmaking; it’s a shambling, rickety, often visually ugly piece that shows his limitations as a writer, director and editor.  (The brickbats for cinematography go to Learan Kahanov, the threadbare production design is by Robert Holtzman and Nate Jones, and the costumes by Allison Pearce.)  James Venable adds to the sloppiness with his score.   That won’t matter to the target audience, of course.

What might is that in trying to recapture the gonzo slacker inanity of the original, with its riffs on fanboy culture and its combination of scatology, sex jokes and lighthearted sacrilege, this attempted rerun demonstrates that the ingredients have gotten more than a little stale, though there are occasional lines and bits of business that score.  And in striving after sentiment, it turns into what, to many, will come across as gloopy slosh.

The springboard for what might charitably be called a plot comes when Randal (Jeff Anderson), who “works” behind the counter of the Quick Stop with its now-owner Dante (Brian O’Halloran), has a heart attack while arguing religion with Elias (Trevor Fehrman), a Jesus-freak customer, and his subservient acolyte, Blockchain (Austin Zajur).  After a protracted hospital sequence that involves arguments over penis size with an emergency room nurse (Justin Long) and a wisecracking surgeon (Amy Sedaris), he survives, though in an ancillary twist Elias suddenly turns to Satanism. 

After his near-death experience—which parallels Smith’s own 2018 heart attack—Randal decides to make a movie about his life as a clerk, dragooning Dante into raising financing for it.  It involves enlisting Jay (Jason Mewes) and, in another twist, the not-so-Silent Bob (Smith), who “run” the video store turned weed shop next door, in the project, as well as lots of old pals from the original movie to re-create scenes (or simply appear in sequences inserted from the original).  It also allows for an elaborate audition montage in which familiar faces briefly appear doing frantic shtick.  (Look—it’s Ben Affleck!  Sarah Michelle Gellar!  Freddie Prinze, Jr.!  Fred Armisen!  And Anthony Michael Hall, doing a famous line from “Sixteen Candles,” yet!

Randal’s self-absorption leads to friction with put-upon Dante, for whom the project leads to confrontation with his vituperative ex Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), to whom he owes money, and a spectral reunion with his dead soul-mate Becky (Rosario Dawson), before the years of frustration catch up with him, too.  A syrupy denouement follows, an adjective that also applies to Smith’s closing statement to fans.

With the exception of Dawson, whose few scenes are surprisingly real, and O’Halloran, who appears to have learned a bit of subtlety over the decades, the acting here is, as is often the case in Smith’s movies, mostly amateurish; even the pros recruited for the audition montage lose any inhibitions their training might have taught them and are heedlessly spontaneous, with Affleck coming off worst.  That adds to the slapdash quality which has been characteristic of Smith’s work from the start but often more winning than in this case.

But, of course, this is a movie made for long-time fans, and for them its faults will probably be oddly endearing.  (They’ll need to hurry to see it in theatres, though: it’s being shown exclusively by Fathom Events beginning September 13, an extra-limited release.)  The uninitiated will probably be baffled by it, if they bother to take a look.