Kevin Smith follows up the gloriously profane Clerks with the polished Mallrats, a 1995 comedy that serves as a sort of prequel to the indie smash. His screenplay wanders through the lives of its college-aged protagonists, but there’s simply too much plot to craft the right spirit. Things are too resolution-minded and the subplots are overwhelming.
That’s not to say there isn’t a certain smart-ass vibe that works, however, and a lot of Mallrats amounts to a veritable bombardment of quotable lines and hysterical situations. But Smith blunders when it comes to tying it all together and the movie wants for cohesion.
T.S. Quint (Jeremy London) and Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee) are best friends, but there’s a problem: Brodie has been dumped by his girlfriend Rene (Shannen Doherty) and T.S. has been dumped by his girlfriend Brandi (Claire Forlani). The lads head to the mall to lick their wounds, but they discover that Brandi’s father (Michael Rooker) is filming a dating game show there.
What’s more, Brandi has offered to be on the game show. T.S. and Brodie seek the assistance of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) to tear down the set, but they run afoul of a security guard (Sven-Ole Thorsen). Brodie also clashes Shannon Hamilton (Ben Affleck), who manages a men’s clothing store and has his eye on Rene.
The characters of Mallrats account for the movie’s finer points and Smith once again succeeds at constructing a real sense of place. He ties the universe together with Clerks by including Jay and Silent Bob and Brodie and T.S. resemble Dante and Randal in their ability to wax philosophical about seemingly trivial subjects.
But the romanticism of Mallrats sets it apart and it valiantly contends with two dickish men who want their women back but lack the tools. Brodie obsesses over comic books and NHL All-Star Hockey, with Rene taking a backseat to everything. He hasn’t introduced her to his mom and conceals his relationship out of fear.
T.S. has his own issues and an extended cut of Mallrats provides more insight in an early and gratuitous scene involving a musket, the Governor of New Jersey (Elizabeth Ashley) and an accidental shooting. Brandi seems to have made up her mind, but mutual friend Gwen (Joey Lauren Adams) paves the way for reconciliation.
The path to reconciliation meanders past Ethan Suplee’s William as he stares at a Magic Eye poster and contends with a trifecta of nipples, with Three’s Company’s Priscilla Barnes playing a psychic. Stan Lee plays a key role as the man who talks some clichéd sense into Brodie, while Renee Humphrey has the tough task of making hay out of a wanton 15-year-old.
Without a doubt, Mallrats is proudly lowbrow. It blends oddly specific commentary about how the cookie shop isn’t part of the food court with a pretty level-headed point about how Lois Lane couldn’t have Superman’s kid – and it accomplishes the joyfully perverse feat in the same scene. And there is the famed Stinkpalm, a stupid trick that plays havoc with Rooker’s character.
Mallrats possesses Smith’s typical pop sensibilities, like when he has someone address Doherty’s character as Brenda or when he draws on Silent Bob’s obsession with Star Wars and has him try to move a cigarette with his mind. There are copious references to Batman, including an amusing gag where Silent Bob saves Jay from mall cops.
Mallrats is one of those movies that people talk about in terms of favourite parts. And there are many highlights, of course. But there’s still the small matter of putting it together and moving past the blotchy, sporadic screenplay and its jam-packed plot. In that respect, it’s hard to enthusiastically commend Smith’s second outing.