With Kevin Smith have recently taken to Twitter to confirm a sequel to this slacker comedy of the mid-90s, currently titled MallBrats, now seemed like an excellent opportunity to revisit the original for the second in a series of posts Revisiting works worthy of reconsideration.
The story follows a day in the life of two listless buddies in an unnamed American suburb, Brodie (played by Jason Lee in his first starring role after a career as a skate boarder) and TS – Jeremy London (before the legal difficulties).
The movie opens with these two “heroes” being dumped by their respective partners – Renee (Shannon Doherty in spikey form throwing off the Beverly Hills 90210 shackles) ditching Brodie for his total lack of drive or ambition and addiction to Sega ice hockey games (retro!) and Brandi (the picturesque Claire Forlani) ditching TS because his sage wisdom has lead to a girl dying in a freak swimming pool accident. The loveable idiots retreat to the mall where they indulge in sulking, introspection, discussion of the practicalities of comic book character sex and retail therapy.
Full disclosure: I’m a Kevin Smith fan. There are not many people I can actually write that about and I’m not blind to his faults – as a filmmaker or in any other area of his public life, but truth be told, I’ve drunk the Kevin Smith Kool Aid.
I am embarrassed to admit how many hours I have spent listening to him and Scott Mosier on Smodcast, or Smith and Ralph Garman on Hollywood Babble On, or Smith with guests on the Fat Man on Batman podcast or… You get the idea. I sincerely believe, that there is an argument to be made that Smith is, in fact, one of the most creative and important directors working today, for, for example, having shifted the expectation of how much ‘inside baseball’ you share with the audience, but that’s another article for another time.
But, one of the reasons for my fan-dom is that I have a penchant for art that tells stories and creates universes out of multiple parts. Knowing that the Rick Darris who Rene cheated on TS with is the same Darris who tells the ‘Finger Cuffs’ story in Chasing Amy is an ‘Easter Egg’ for the viewer which pleases. This is true in the Parlabane-era work of Christopher Brookmyre too, in writing, and I think is a gift for the careful audience member.
Either way, what is undeniable is that the movie was panned on release – Smith has spoken about this too in other sources. However, he has also said that he has lost count of the amount of people who say that Mallrats was their introduction to his work – the gateway drug to his other work like Chasing Amy or the other View Askew titles and this was certainly true for me. Like a great many people, I was introduced to this flick by friends (friends who bore a striking resemblance to Jay and Silent Bob (or maybe Cheech and Chong) truth be told) on home video and fell in love.
Rewatching it now, Mallrats definitely has the feel of an updated teen comedy like Porky’s for the Gen X’ers. Smith has written about this at some length (you can read the thoughts of the man himself here: http://viewaskew.com/mallrats/kevmall.html and, on this level, the film really starts to make a lot of sense. In the credits, Smith thanks the two Johns – Landis and Hughes for inspiring and entertaining him as a teenager and it is clear that Mallrats was his attempt to make that kind of a film. But, you can see why it might not have connected with an audience that was – in that year alone – enjoying Get Shorty, and released in the year of Empire Records, Dangerous Minds and The Usual Suspects – the tone just didn’t fit for the times.
However, it has now found its niche and these days, is – I think – regarded with affection. I’m fairly certain that American Pie, the whole of Judd Apatow’s career and, even The Inbetweeners would not exist without Mallrats. Now, there’s a claim to juggle with.
It has some jokes that are still pretty solid within the genre – the carpet store in the mall called Rug Munchers, the intertextual references to The Godfather, Batman (Michael Keaton, not Christian ‘The Gruffalo’ Bale) and Jaws, as well as Smith’s usual litany of fast paced, whip smart characters all pondering at pace like dime store Sartres. The stink palm and the chocolate covered pretzels scarred a generation. There is also a great turn from Ben Affleck as the sleazy store manager. Affleck plays the unsympathetic role with a strutting insouciance and you realise what a big man he is when he goes toe-to-toe with Lee.
Interestingly, Affleck is also key to one of the scenes that does jar the viewer 20 years on. The scene where he attacks Lee in a corridor and explains his nefarious plan for Doherty has a gritty realism which actually makes the punches stark and aggressive. It really takes the audience aback, especially as mere moments before there have been comedic punches and kicks to the groin galore. It’s a shift which is uncomfortable.
There are other gripes, Jason Mewes is not as comfortable an actor here as he would go on to be, and some of the scenes have strange moments and pauses which I can’t help but think an editor as accomplished as Smith would now remove, but these are minor quibbles.
Smith has confirmed via Twitter, Instagram and the like, that the bulk of the cast have agreed to return, which is a huge boost. He’s also spoken about including the man of, like, 7 voices, Ralph Garman in the movie which is a massive boost for those of us who have marvelled at his dynamic performances and fury fuelled diatribes as point man on the tremendous Hollywood Babble On. The man will be a huge addition to the ensemble.
Mallrats shines on as movie which, if you have seen it, lives with you. I don’t know if it’s the simplistic tale of lovers spurned and returned or because no movie with a three-nippled fortune teller can be all bad, but it has a sweetness which resonates and which means that 20 years on, I think we’d all like to see what happened to Brodie, TS et al.
But, before you see the sequel, go back to mall – it’s worth it.