B y M a r i W a d s w o r t h
WHEN T.S. TOLD Brodi he would "prefer ritual suicide" to a trip to the mall, I felt his pain. But never to judge a movie by its press kit, I was willing to give Mallrats--and its cast of 90210 rejects (that includes Shannen Doherty)--a fair shake. Having seen Clerks earlier this year, the debut film by writer/director Kevin Smith, I made the great leap of faith that if I had to spend a day at the mall, Smith would make it worth my while. And in fact, that's the only substantive complaint I have about Mallrats: I saw Clerks earlier this year.
Mallrats is to Clerks what Desperado is to El Mariachi; or even, at a stretch, what Clueless was to Fast Times at Ridgemont High: a low-budget movie with a brand-new studio expense account, written and directed by a young filmmaker with, apparently, only one original idea in his head. At least Amy Heckerling waited 10 years before releasing the same film, with an adapted screenplay of a literary classic (Emma) adding to at least the illusion of creating something fresh and new.
Mallrats makes no such attempt. Smith gives us the same two guys, one a basically decent college student on vacation, the other a caustic-but-harmless slacker; the same my-girlfriend-dumped-me plot; and the same sabotage-the-authority figure climax, all delivered in the same fast-moving, wit-to-spare dialogue with goofy, self-mocking references. Mallrats even resurrects two of Clerks finer characters: Jay and Silent Bob, the destructive deadbeat duo. All you have to do to make the transformation complete is substitute mall for convenience store, Comic Books for videos, and lower middle-class Jersey kids for upper middle-class Jersey kids. Of course, the significance of this will be lost on the majority of movie-goers who didn't turn out to see Clerks the first time around. I guess word got out that it was--gasp!--filmed in black and white.
For those of you who either glossed over analogies on the SAT or don't know what the hell I'm talking about, Mallrats is a day in the life of Brodie and T.S., who head off to the mall to escape the pain of being dumped by their girlfriends. While Brody waxes philosophical about the boundaries of the food court and why it's physiologically impossible for Lois Lane to carry Superman's baby, T.S. broods about how to win back his lost love. The ensuing 120-plus minutes of converging subplots and ruinous attempts at reconciliation comes complete with high fashion, the appearance of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, topless fortune-telling, "stink-palming," a blasé 15-year-old sex researcher compiling her notes for Borgasm, quips like "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned for Sega," and the new-and-improved superhero antics of Silent Bob, all delivered in Technicolor with a digital soundtrack including Elastica, Belly, Sponge, Silverchair and Wax. Wow. Add to that a hilarious spin on The Dating Game, reinvented as "Truth or Date," and you've basically cornered the 18-to-24 market. Which really seems to be what Mallrats is all about: good, clean capitalism.
While not without its high points, Mallrats just doesn't live up to the integrity of its independent roots. Where Clerks succeeded for being off-beat and quirky, Mallrats comes off as glib and phony. And while I questioned the sense in judging another man's enviable dementia, I couldn't shake the disappointment that Smith was sitting on his laurels. Maybe Mallrats was the movie he wanted to make the first time around and didn't have the money; but let's hope that when Jay and Silent Bob return--as he promises they will--they'll have a new story to tell.
Mallrats is playing at Century Gateway (792-9000) cinema.
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