30 January 1995

Mallrats (1995)

Generation X would have to be the most over-determined, self-reflexive and onanistic demographic since the last one, the Boomers, whom all devout Xer’s openly despise but secretly envy. To this reviewer’s great relief, Mall Rats isn't another world-weary rumination on the nihilistic collective consciousness of a disinherited Generation X.
Instead, tyro writer/director Kevin Smith, the uncanny X-er who made such a critical splash with the super low-budget Clerks, wants to be the John Hughes of the nineties. This is no slur.
With Mall Rats Smith produces a worthy successor to such 80s teen movie benchmarks as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Valley Girl and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. His formula of dry, witty repartee drenched in a self-reflexive solution of pop culture references has been augmented this time round with a heavy dose of slapstick. It’s not everyone’s schtick, but I laughed.

T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee) are two well-meaning dudes whose babes have dumped them, so they seek solace in the modern Church of Mammon, the Mall. There they encounter varied folk of their generation, boys and girls obsessed with such ephemera as food, ‘fashion’, 3D art, Star Wars, and sex. Their lost loves turn up as well, with suitably amusing results. Shannen Doherty, as T.S.’s social climbing ex, Rene, gets some good lines, but it’s former skateboarding champion Lee in his feature debut who steals the show with his rapid-fire yet off-hand delivery of Smith’s glib dialogue. Another highlight is the sage-like presence of Silent Bob, again played by Smith himself, reprising his role from Clerks.
Smith thankfully refuses to make the mistake of most X-er artists of spending too much time defining Gen-X and too little time living it. His characters are too bound up in the hyperreal production of their own identities to be bothered with navel-gazing. Everything, at bottom, becomes an object for consumption: love, sex and relationships are devoured and expelled as voraciously as the turnover of pop culture. As quickly as you can say, ‘Kevin Smith was last year’s bright new talent’.
While Mall Rats is no Fast Times, there’s much amusement and wisdom in the detail. It is good enough to beg the question: does this 24 year old wundekinde merely want to merely ape his forebears or pay homage to them on the way to establishing a oeuvre to call his own? The jury’s still out on that, but there’s plenty on offer while they consider their verdict.

MICHAEL HUTAK

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