Empire Records
directed by Allan Moyle
(Warner Brothers, 1995)

A.J. is in love with Corey. Corey is in love with Rex. Rex is in love with himself, but he makes love to Gina on the copying machine in the back room of Empire Records. That doesn't sit well with Corey, even though they were sitting down at the time, and none of this sits well with Joe, the store manager, who's trying to save Empire Records, an independent music store about to be bought out by a corporate chain.

That's probably more than you'll ever need to know about Empire Records, a 1995 film by director Allan Moyle which brings together an ensemble cast, only to let it disassemble itself by the second reel.

The film opens with trusted clerk Lucas (Rory Cochrane) blowing the day's take in Atlantic City, where he'd hoped to roll it up to the point where Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) could buy out the store owner (Ben Bode) before the store becomes a franchise and the clerks are disenfranchised. On top of that, it's "Rex Manning Day" at Empire Records, featuring classic (read "over-the-hill") rock star Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), who's at the store to sign albums for his fans, only one of whom, Corey (Liv Tyler), is under 40.

Add to this a teen terrorist/clerk wanna-be (Brendon Sexton), a hot-licks guitarist (Coyote Shivers), a punked-out employee who thinks Rex reeks (Robin Tunney) and a tuneful score by a score or more of alternative rock groups like Gin Blossoms ("-n"Til I Hear It from You") and the Dirt Clods ("Can't Stop Loving Myself") and you should have enough to keep any movie hopping.

But you don't.

Instead, you have a film that works only fitfully, in neatly crafted vignettes, like one in which Mark (Ethan Randall), a clerk in serious need of a brain transplant, sees himself on TV being offered a chance to play with ultra-grunge group Gwar. It's a marvelous moment, but it's a time-out from the rest of the film.

More often, Empire Records offers up an uneasy combination of soap opera sentimentality and Up All Night humor, providing little depth and even less insight into its characters. Instead, we get a superficial look at a day in the lives of some store clerks, for whom every new song is an excuse for someone to play air guitar or get karaoked away. This may bring us a chuckle once, even twice, but it becomes old faster than a Top 40 tune.

To give it its due, Empire Records is slickly made, with quirky characters, adequate acting and a pinch of good dialogue. (Be sure not to miss James "Kimo" Wells' "Music is the glue of the world" speech.) But in the end, this homage to "new music" spreads itself too thin and offers little that's really new.

In 1964, Richard Lester and the Beatles proved that a rock 'n' roll film could combine wit, charm and invention in one frenetic musical package. Sadly, Empire Records succeeds only in being frenetic.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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