Mallrats (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As promised, Jay and Silent Bob are back. The quirky duo who hung around in the background of Kevin Smith's 1994 debut feature, Clerks, have returned to the screen for the followup, Mallrats, the middle picture of the so-called "New Jersey Trilogy." (Although ostensibly taking place in the Garden State, Mallrats was filmed almost entirely in Los Angeles and Minnesota.) In many ways, this new movie is a less original, not-as-funny, full color redressing of Clerks. Despite a broad range of effective comedy and a decent laugh-per-minute ratio, Mallrats is likely to be a moderate disappointment for anyone who guffawed their way through the previous film.

The only returning characters are Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). Their role here is a little more prominent than in their previous outing, and about half of Mallrats' best humor is centered around them. They're involved in quite a bit of Road Runner/Wylie Coyote slapstick which, while obviously juvenile, is still hilarious. Their failed attempts to bring down a game show stage are a comic highlight.

The main characters are a pair of college-age men, T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brody (Jason Lee), who are spending a day at the mall to soothe broken hearts and wounded egos. T.S. has been dumped by his intended fiancee, Brandi (Claire Forlani), and Brody's girlfriend, Rene (Shannen Doherty), has decided that she's had it with his ignoring her in favor of his Sega game system. Not surprisingly, both women also show up at the mall, along with an assortment of other oddballs, including a fifteen year old girl doing research for a sex book (Renee Humphrey, who was fabulous in last year's Fun), a fat guy who spends all day staring at posters with hidden images (Ethan Suplee), and the legendary comic book creator Stan Lee.

The script for Mallrats is rather disjointed and episodic. Although Smith's knack for insightful comic dialogue is much in evidence, many of the lines aren't the equal of those in Clerks for cleverness or humor. And, the less funny the dialogue is, the more stilted and unnatural it seems. There are several painfully awkward "dead spots" in Mallrats where nothing works -- not the dialogue, the acting, or the direction. Unfortunately, the film opens with one of these as T.S. and Brandi argue about their breakup.

Pop references abound with as much regularity as the jokes (sometimes they are the jokes). These range from nods to classic movies (Sundance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Star Wars, and '80s teen farces (such as those directed by John Hughes) to comic book characters, "The Dating Game", and (inevitably, given Shannen Doherty's presence) a certain current TV show with a zip code in the title. Smith is aware that there is a niche audience for Mallrats -- the under-30 crowd. As a result, the film plays almost exclusively to this group, and comes across as a grungy, male version of Clueless.

There is such a thing as the "sophomore jinx" for film makers. Recently, it has hit the likes of Allison Anders, Robert Rodriguez, and now Kevin Smith. Smith freely admits that he toned down the script and broadened the comedy in a quest for wider appeal, and allows that Mallrats is a far less "cerebral" film than Clerks. However, he promises that his next two features (Chasing Amy, which goes into production in January of 1996, and Dogma, which is still on the drawing board) will be grittier and wittier. Time, of course, will tell, but as long as Jay and Silent Bob are around, future efforts can't be all that bad -- or, for that matter, all that deep.

Mallrats (United States, 1995)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 1995-10-20
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1