"But this movie was supposed to make people take me seriously as an actress!"

 

 

Geek Love

Kevin Smith brings back the
teen-nerd comedy with Mallrats.

by Coury Turczyn

 

If geeks ruled the world, that world would look like Mallrats.

Superhero comics would be universally recognized as the source of all wisdom. Shopping malls would be the main centers of socialization and recreation. Star Wars would be accepted as the dominant religion. And every geek would have a fabulous babe for a girlfriend, one who is unaccountably attracted to a sloppy appearance and a nonexistent work ethic.

Such is the world director/writer Kevin Smith creates in his second movie, Mallrats. And to be sure, he perfectly targets a certain strata of video game-playing, heavy alternative rock-listening, comic book-reading, smart-ass slacker-geek. Whether or not you’ll find any of it funny probably depends on how closely you relate to such a subculture. Or how much you like fart jokes.

When Smith burst onto the film scene over a year ago with his self-financed Clerks, he was lauded as a new original, a young director with fresh vision. To tell you the truth, after having to watch roughly a hundred variations of Die Hard, he was exactly what film critics hunger for–someone, anyone, who has something new to say. Clerks, with its bathroom humor and up-close look at convenience store life, was such a bracing jolt of novelty that most critics heralded it as genius … while ignoring its bad acting, bad dialogue, bad pacing and crude construction. It was essentially a really good student film, with some absolutely stellar dick jokes.

Now, with Mallrats, Smith returns with a more polished, more appealing movie–one that’s still pretty damn clumsy, with hit-or-miss jokes, but with more life than most comedies today.

Mallrats resurrects the ’80s genre of the R-rated teen comedy, the cinematic terrain staked out by such films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Wild Life , Porky’s and Last American Virgin (the genre would later be subverted by the nefarious John Hughes and his–ech!–Pretty In Pink-style fantasies). In these movies, now all but forgotten, teenage males could revel in seeing their peers ogle naked breasts, tell fart jokes and be chased by authority figures with impunity. Mallrats offers all this and more.

Newcomer Jason Lee stars as Brodie, the über-slacker who’d rather play his Sega Genesis than have sex with his girlfriend Rene (the infamous Shannon Doherty). Brodie is lazy, unkempt, directionless and hyper-obsessed with comic book superheroes. Dumped by Rene for his lack of lovemaking effort, he joins up with his also-dumped pal T.S. (Jeremy London), and they head to the mall for salvation. Lee, a non-actor most notable for being a pro skateboarder, gives Smith’s character a good degree of believability, but he actually looks smarter than his dialogue. You can’t help but wish Smith had given him better comic routines than simply jamming his hand into his butt to create "stink palm" (uh, if you’re curious as to why this would be funny, go see the movie, I guess). In fact, Brodie has few redeeming qualities, even after you scrape off all his smart-ass bluster.

Meanwhile, London has plenty of cute-guy charm, but is so resolutely normal you have to wonder why his character hangs out with such a jerk. And Doherty, despite all the hype about her "sinking her teeth" into a true big-screen role, barely rates a cameo. Whether or not she’s anything more than an evening soap star is yet to be seen.

The rest of the movie concerns itself with watching Brodie and T.S. trying to win their girls back. For comic relief, we also have the antics of Silent Bob (Smith) and Jay (Jason Mewes), who give Mallrats a cartoon sensibility that takes off some its bathroom-humor edge. Quoting Jedi Knight philosophy and equipping themselves with Batman utility belts, Smith and Mewes are rocker-geeks unleashed, wreaking havoc around the mall–and even as cartoons, they have more dimension than the movie’s ostensible lead.

As a film maker, Smith shows a good deal of progress since Clerks–with Mallrats, he’s proven he can make a slicker "studio" film yet still retain his crude humor. He knows his audience and how to make it laugh. But he still has absolutely no sense of subtlety with his gags–they hit you over the head or not at all. And his adulation of vacuous shopping malls and schlock-meister Stan Lee is without irony, lacking even the slightest shred of cynicism. He’s a geek, and proud of it.

 

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