Mallrats (1995)

D: Kevin Smith
S: Jason Lee, Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London

Unfairly panned second film from Kevin Smith following the surprise success of Clerks. This time it's a full tilt farce, charting the adventures of two of his postmodern slackers during a day at the local mall after both have been dumped by their respective girlfriends. Though there are several dialogue exchanges which deal with contemporary male attitudes and examine relationships through the filter of nineties teenage subculture, the film is weighted towards the outrageous, with plenty of (literally) comic book moments involving Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and director Smith), supporting characters in Clerks promoted to more central roles here. It's all done with the same brashness and off-kilter sense of humour as before, but liberated by a larger budget and studio support, Smith indulges in some hilarious action scenes and movie in-jokes which shift the emphasis away from the dialogue which was so central to its predecessor.

The result is entertaining for those of a suitable disposition to enjoy it in the first place. It's a comic attack on postmodern culture which harbours a certain affection for it all the same, and probably plays best with those familiar with the frames of reference. Its many scenes featuring comic books come to a head with the appearance of Stan Lee (which has a nice punchline), which, again, makes sense only if you care for his work. Its plethora of gags on popular movies such as The Empire Strikes Back, Batman and even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are more easily recognised, but his take on them may not amuse the more serious-minded critic. It climaxes with a skewering of game shows and revels throughout in an awareness of social, psychological and commercial conventions.

It doesn't all work. Jason Lee plays a character who is sometimes funny, but often grating. He is balanced by the more likable Jeremy London, and pitted against the wonderfully repulsive Ben Affleck, but he remains less sympathetic than a central character ought to be. There are plenty of weak gags in there, including a running bit about a character's inability to see a 'magic-eye' drawing (though somehow the obviousness of this particular gag doesn't stop it being funny in context). It's all completely ridiculous and it might well annoy you as easily as it tickles your funny bone. But it's generally enjoyable, and hardly the disaster the response from critics and the box office suggests. It is best seen in conjunction with its predecessor, and promises an interesting ongoing evolution for this singular young cineaste (who obviously sees himself as a maverick of sorts - in one scene he is reading "Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes"). Not for everyone, but worth a look for the attuned.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.