Kevin Smith's treatise on teen culture fails to rise from mediocrity.
After the success of Clerks, a film largely concerned with relationships and convenience stores, Kevin Smith made Mallrats, a film largely concerned with relationships and shopping malls. It's generally regarded as the weakest of his work to date, which I think is doing it a slight disservice.
My personal theory for it's panning comes from the opening lines, a colossally poor joke, spoken over the opening mall montage by Brodie (an otherwise fantastic Jason Lee), involving cats, anuses and gerbils. It's an awful, pointlessly crude and desperately unfunny way to start a film, and a poor first impression.
The opening credits redeem this slightly, with some lovely comic artwork of the main characters starring in their own comics, particular mention going to The Adventures Of Buttman starring Ben Affleck, prophetic given his current relationship with J-Lo. We open the film proper on T.S. (Jeremy London) arriving to pick up his girlfriend, Brandi (Claire Forlani) for a trip to Florida. She's a little upset after her friend Julie has to pull out of a game show being organised by Brandi's father on account of her being dead. She relates the unlikely tale of Julie being worried about looking too fat on TV, leading to her doing 700 laps of a swimming pool and dropping dead of an embolism. Brandi then agrees to appear on the game show, meaning that she cannot go on the trip. A fight and a break-up ensues. This would be a fairly standard scenario were it not for the ridiculous manner in which Julie is removed from the film. Most would settle on an injury or illness, but not Smith, who must kill her off in a totally ridiculous manner, presumably to get a cheap laugh. These kind of silly little urban legend-alike contrivances pop up quite a bit in Smith's work, but this is the only time it gets used as a plot device, to my recollection, and it does not sit well. Were this to appear a little later, once a few laughs been garnered, it may have worked better. As is, it doesn't amuse, it annoys. For me, it doesn't kill the film dead, but I think this is the point where the critics started sharpening the knives for the later plunging into Smith's back. A pity, as it actually can be quite funny later on, but this is a weak start.
The film starts rolling a little better as we are introduced to Brodie being awoken by his girlfriend (Shannen Doherty), at the ridiculously early time , at least to Brodie, of 9am. There's a wonderful moment where shock passes over his face and he begins frantically scrabbling for something, eventually emerging triumphant with a control pad, resuming last night's paused Sega activity. This little scene, coupled with the many comic books and posters on display gives us a fairly clear indication of Brodie's character. This coupled with Rene's speech as she exits, dumping him, gives us a good impression of the shiftless layabout Brodie is. Rene clearly in unsatisfied with her life and wants more. Brodie seems to lack all ambition and is happy to stay in his parent's basement.
A little later, T.S. shows up at Brodie's abode and the two lick their respective wounds. The only solution to their melancholy is clear to them - a trip to the mall. As they wander in, Shannon (Ben Affleck) literally bumps into them, spilling Brodie's drink. The short shouting match that ensues establishes a hatred between them, for reasons Broadie isn't altogether sure of. The first hint of slapstick shows up as Broadie walks backward, extolling to T.S. the virtues of looking forward in life before walking into a length of scaffolding being carried over a workman's shoulder. Yes, it's a tired gag, but it remains a comedy classic.
The duo notice a stage being erected, and wonder what's going on in their mall. Willam (Ethan Suplee) obliges them, telling them of the aforementioned game show being filmed there later, as the while staring at a stereograph. He is totally unable to get this 3D picture contraption to work, and a running gag appears of people wandering up next to him and immediately recognising a sailboat. These are minor little scene buffers at best, funny enough for the purpose. The only reason I mention it here is because the picture is actually a bunch of geometric shapes. 'Ah,' I hear you ask, 'but how would you know that? Surely you weren't anal enough to go back, pause it and check? Surely you are not that much of a tragic and sad individual?'. The answers to these questions, however, will never be known to mortal man.
Broadie decides a great way to get back at Brandi's father, who was in some small way responsible for T.S's current singleness, would be to destroy the stage. No stage - no show. But who could achieve this? Which brings us to Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). The two uber-delinquents were already hatching cunning plans to achieve this anyway, as they have nothing better to do, always the best of reasons to do anything. They have a few of these plans backfire throughout the film, in more slapstick comedy moments. I like 'em, they're all Roadrunner inspired plans involving overly detailed blueprints of incredibly obvious plans. They're a little cartooney, but given Brodies's comic book obsession and the cameo appearance of Marvel comics legend Stan Lee it somehow seems fitting.
Brodie notices that the odious Shannon has gotten his claws into Rene, so seizes an opportunity to bundle her into a handy lift for a serious chat. The chat turns into a fight, and as is often the case in films, the fight turns into passion, apparently after Brodie take exception to Rene challenging his libido. Rene still blows this off as too little too late. Meanwhile, T.S. meets Brandi's father, who makes it crystal clear that he is no fan of the youngster and goes off on a standard 'You aren't good enough for my daughter' rant. This establishes him as a bad bad man who we should hate and laugh when he fails. Not a tremendously interesting way to set this up, but you can't have everything. At heart the film's little more than a knockabout comedy more than a schmaltzy romcom, and in any case neither genre is renowned for pushing back cinematic and narrative boundaries.
To round off the limited characterisation for the movie, Shannon tracks down Brodie and gives him a beating, telling him of his plans for Rene's anal integrity. He describe his methods, picking up girls on the rebound, using them and discarding them. This establishes him as a bad bad man who we should hate and laugh when he fails. Not a tremendously interesting way to set this up, but you can't have everything. I seem to be repeating myself. This kind of lazy and cliched storytelling would normally hurt any film, and there's no exception here. It's balanced by the pacing of the film as none of these flawed scenes are dwelled on, moving on to some other interjected scene involving some of the minor characters before jumping back to the main story - in this case Brodie telling Jay and Silent Bob it was the mall's Easter Bunny who inflicted this, and there subsequent revenge on said bunny. If you sit and analyse the film the flaws and general laziness becomes more apparent, but in my case at least it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the film. The hypercritical may see things differently.
The final act revolves around T.S.'s plan to get on the Blind Date style game show that Brandi will be appearing on, and his attempt to convince her to take him back. Jay disposes of two of the contestants by the power of his weed, sending them on a trip to munchieland. T.S. and Brodie take their place, along side the third contestant Gill Hick (Brian O'Halloran, who will seemingly appear in every Smith film ever made until the world of man comes to an end). Brodie's purpose in this scene is to ridicule Gill at every opportunity. The intent is to show Brodie as being a tremendous comic talent, which is necessary for the inevitable happy ending to approach the realms of be believability. It fails somewhat - his barbs never show the wit that Smith's writing is generally praised for, merely being amusing rather than hilarious. This scene is hurt by having to feature Claire Forlani, whose performance throughout the film is stilted and devoid of character. It absolutely kills this scene dead for me, and is a problem throughout the film. When the character herself is so emotionless it becomes difficult to invest any emotion in her, or her future with or without T.S. Their reunion should be the a joyous thing, but end ends up just being a thing.
I'm sure no-one will be to annoyed if I give the ending away - it's happy. Both of the principles get their girls, the bad guys get there comeuppance - Shannon's in particular is well done. Affleck throughout puts in a competent performance, perhaps better than in Chasing Amy, but over a far more limited character, so it's not a fair comparison. I also found Shannen Doherty's performance surprisingly good, given my distaste for her and her work.
The film is set in a mall and it does indeed look like a mall, which is about as much as can be said for the cinematography. The soundtrack is indy-riffic, featuring the likes of Belly and Weezer. I don't think it's aged well. Smith's direction is straightforward, which generally befits the subject matter of this film and his others. There is little to no flashy shots or overly arty posturing, which is a good thing. So the film lives or dies by the strength of the script.
Which is a problem, as it's generally mediocre. There may be message about the nature of relationships in this story, but it's so trite it is barely worthy of comment. It's the usual story of listening to other's needs and following your heart, etc, etc. I doubt relationship councilors will worry about possible redundancy due to this solving all of humanity's love problems. It has a few great moments, largely featuring Jason Mewes, who is a wonderful character to watch although I don't think I'd want to be around him. Many of Jason Lee's lines are good, and he delivers them well. Every ying has it's yang, however. As mentioned, I didn't think much of Forlani, and Joey Lauren Adams' performance as Gwen in the film is poor. It doesn't particularly ruin the film, but I found it distracting enough to prevent me from truly enjoying the film. My particular Kevin Smith bugbear is his dialogue sounds like no natural speech pattern known to man, and it applies in certain scenes here, but not enough to irritate me as it does at points in Chasing Amy and Clerks. Perhaps it only applies to films whose title begins with C.
So, in the final analysis is has to be filed under mediocre. It does most things competently, a few things well and a few things badly. If you want an out and out comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back may serve you better, and if you are after Smiths take on relationships Chasing Amy is what you should be looking at. This falls halfway between the extremes and suffers for it.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
DVD notes - The edition I have is notable only for claiming to have a 5.0 soundtrack, a full 0.1 less than the standard. No commentary, no extras bar a trailer. The transfer quality is reasonable and the soundtrack clear enough, which is all that's really required for films such as this.
Other editions exist which have a commentary track, an hour of deleted scenes and a few more goodies, although I can't say I enjoyed the film enough to track it down.
Jason Lee (Brodie Bruce)
Jeremy London (T.S.Quint)
Claire Forliani (Brandi Svenning)