directed by Kevin Smith
(Universal, 1995)

Shift the core idea of Clerks from a convenience store to a shopping mall. Trade a pair of slacker salesmen for two newly dumped layabouts. Bring in Jay and Silent Bob for some new hijinks. Add an ill-conceived game show, a puffed-up security chief and a topless prognosticator of fortunes, and you have Mallrats.

Mallrats is widely considered to be the weakest of Kevin Smith's films to date -- a position by all accounts held by Smith himself. And there's no doubt that it pales in comparision to its predecessor, Clerks, as well as its immediate successors, Chasing Amy and Dogma.

The core is good. Smith demonstrates once again his mastery of sharp-witted dialogue, his command of minutia and his ability to draw fully realized characters you'd love to meet despite -- or perhaps because of -- their many flaws.

The best of the lot is Jason Lee, a Smith movie staple, as Brodie. He's obsessed with comic books and Sega games, and his fixations cost him his long-suffering girlfriend Rene (Shannen Doherty). Brodie's best friend is T.S. (Jeremy London), who also loses his girlfriend Brandi (Claire Forlani) after another in a long stream of arguments.

The quartet of dumpers and dumpees all end up at the mall, where paths inevitably cross. They also interact with various friends and foes: the supportive gal pal Gwen (Joey Lauren Adams), the sexually precocious Tricia (Renee Humphrey), the shark-like suitor Shannon (Ben Affleck) and, of course, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith).

Had the movie limited itself to these characters and their interactions, Mallrats would likely rank higher in the Smith canon. But Smith muddled the film with too many busy subplots, the most annoying of which is the live debut of the gameshow Truth or Date, the pet project of Brandi's father Jared Svenning (Michael Rooker). Svenning's obsessive approach to the show and his overriding hatred of T.S. is a caricature of itself; every time Svenning appears on screen, the film loses its stride and focus.

The boys' efforts to derail Svenning's show is entertaining at times, irritating at others. The show itself is long, dull and awkward, bringing the film to a grinding halt long before its actual end.

Another subplot involves Priscilla Barnes as Ivannah, the topless fortuneteller. While this rare use of nudity in a Smith film sets up a funny sequence, the idea goes on too long and runs out of steam.

Still, fans of Smith's unique voice as a director shouldn't skip Mallrats. It's not his best work, but it still has enough to recommend it.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 30 May 2002

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