One can’t mention the film Mallrats (1995) without giving a nod to Clerks (1994). Clerks was writer/director Kevin Smith’s low-budget, indie masterpiece. It isn’t necessarily a novel idea these days, but in the early nineties, a movies about hourly-wage employees based mostly on snappy dialogue and not much action was groundbreaking.
After the success and cult following for Clerks, Hollywood had big hopes for Mallrats. Kevin Smith was given a budget that made the Clerks budget look like pocket change. Cut to opening weekend for the movie- considering the budget and the money spent marketing the movie, Mallrats was a commercial and critical failure.
So what is it?
Mallrats has a lot of different sub-plots, which may have caused many to disregard it. The main plot concerns best friends Brodie and TS (Jason Lee and Jeremy London), who have recently been dumped by their respective girlfriends. Brodie is the wise-cracking, sardonic, comic-book obsessed slacker (obviously a stand-in for Kevin Smith himself) and TS is….well, the protagonist who we are supposed to root for.
The duo go to their local mall in order to appear on a dating game show which TS’s girlfriend Brandi (Claire Forlani- hey, what happened to her?) will appear on as well as find Brodie’s girlfriend Rene (the infamous Shannen Doherty) who is rumored to be involved with a pretentious store manager (a pre-superstar Ben Affleck.)
At the mall, Brodie and TS encounter hi-jinks and lots of colorful characters, including Jay and Silent Bob, the vulgar drug dealers that hung out by the convenience store in Clerks. TS and Brodie also avoid sabotage by Brandi’s father and other enemies, while finally reuniting with their girlfriends and finding love and success.
So how does it hold up?
I’ll be honest, there is a lot in this movie that just doesn’t work. Firstly, Jay and Silent Bob are given slapstick comedy to perform. It’s also a bit jarring to see them in full color and filmed in a studio film, whereas they were first introduced as seedy but hilarious characters in a black and white film. Although Mallrats is rated R, their language and actions are toned down, forced to only to make fat jokes about Silent Bob.
Shannen Doherty is horrible. Horrible. In 1995, Beverly Hill 90210 was one if the biggest shows on the planet and she was one of the biggest stars in the planet, so it makes sense to cast her. As we know, Doherty isn’t known for her acting skills. Her character is supposedly intellectual, but seeing Doherty stumble through her complicated dialogue with the same intonation sure is grating. She also strangely has an outfit change in every scene, despite the movie taking place all in one day.
The jokes are shallow and revisited too many times. There are several extended sequences about a guy who can’t see the pictures in the Magic Eye paintings (oh, 1995 and your stupid trends) which is a one-note joke. There are several innuendos about anal sex which are just juvenile.
So why are you even mentioning it?
Thanks to our trusty friends Netflix Streaming, you can easily view the movie from the comforts of home. I rewatched it out of curiosity, and despite all the above still being true, there are elements of the movie that are, excuse the trite expression, “ahead of its time.”
The setting and focus of the movie in the mall is both a sendup to New jersey suburban culture and the mall-culture of the eighties and nineties (pre-internet shopping era). There are some satirically named stores that show the utter ridiculousness of using consumerism for entertainment, and considering all the attention brought to consumerism and wealth these days, the message is still relevant.
Jason Lee was literally plucked from obscurity by Kevin Smith to star in this movie as Brodie. . The instant he is on screen, his charisma, persona and delivery are undeniable, and now that he is a big star, it is not surprising when watching him in Mallrats. (Although recent career choices have left me baffled). He is the wisecracking, low ambition sidekick, but clearly also intelligent, if not hindered by a lack of motivation to become an adult. Brodie also possesses parts of “nerd culture”- like collecting comic books and being an avid Star Wars fan- while still retaining elements of being a ladies man and the guy everyone wants to be best friends with. It has not been until recently that so-called “nerd-culture” has been co-opted by the mainstream and the popular (thanks, JJ Abrams). One could call Brodie ahead of his time.
Also worth noting is that tor comic book appreciators, the opening credits are pretty rad.
Despite being unrealistic and over-the-top, the setting is very original and unlike any other movie or characters. It’s worth a re-watch with some old friends on a rainy day. I’ll even venture to say that it’s the second-best movie ever set at a mall, right behind the under-rated Observe & Report, but still leaps and bounds above Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
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