“Mallrats” has a reputation as one of those ‘difficult’ second movies and is regarded as something of a disappointment after the blistering debut of “Clerks”. Not by me, though. It’s one of my favourite View Askew offerings and holds a special place in my heart because it was through “Mallrats” that I was first introduced to Jay, Bob and the delights of Smith’s trademark slacker culture (it’s also the film which first brought the song ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ into my perennial playlist. Superficially it seems very different from its predecessor but the difference is primarily in the greater production resources enabling a more polished aesthetic. If you strip away the colour cinematography, everything feels like a natural evolution from “Clerks”, even in its setting. After all, when your first movie is set in a small convenience store, where can you possibly go for the, bigger, better follow up? The mall, of course.
When Brodie (Jason Lee) and his best friend TS (Jeremy London) are both dumped by their girlfriends on the same day, they head to the mall to mooch around. But the mall also happens to be the venue for TS’ girlfriend’s dad’s new TV pilot and the workplace of Brodie’s arch-nemesis Shannon (Ben Affleck), who has designs on Brodie’s now ex-girlfriend.
The first difference you note from “Clerks” to “Mallrats” is that there’s a clearer central narrative flow, albeit a somewhat surprisingly conventional one. Two guys who take their girlfriends for granted end up dumped which prompts them into a journey of self-discovery which leads to an important epiphany and then they can win their girls back. It’s in the how all this unfolds and the various supporting characters that criss-cross and connect the various subplots that Smith has his fun and even the so-called conventional set-up reads as a fond satire of the tired teen movie genre.
“Mallrats” isn’t afraid to wear its silliness on its sleeve and introduces a degree of fantasy and whimsy to layer on the profanity, sophomoric humour and cunningly wrought dialogue which reads as crude but contains a great deal more wisdom and insight than people generally give it credit for.
There’s a strong comic-book theme underpinning all of the action, not just in the character of Brodie, a die-hard comic collector, but in the antics of Jay and especially Silent Bob, and topped off by a wonderful cameo from Stan Lee, acting in a ‘teen angel’ capacity to finally put Brodie on the right path (and answer his relentless questions about superhero genitalia). Jason Lee and Jeremy London are a decent pairing anchoring the picture in the way Dante and Randall did “Clerks” – I’ve often wondered if in an original draft of the film it was going to be Dante and Randall – but it’s Lee who commands the screen. Loud, obnoxious and very, very funny he delivers a great, powerhouse performance which often proves a little too high voltage for London to cope with as the straight man of the pairing.
They’re ably supported by Shannon Doherty, Claire Forlani, a brilliantly volcanic Ethan Suplee and a deliciously slimy Michael Rooker while Jason Mewes freewheels through the scenes with gleefully oblivious abandon. His delivery of dialogue makes the most inane or nonsensical words sound like something Shakespeare might have written, were he super-stoned at the time.
The View Askewniverse really starts to takes shape in “Mallrats” and although it will veer back towards the more authentic interpersonal comedy of “Clerks” with the next movie, “Mallrats” sets the silly, exaggerated and referential fantasy template which will become a hallmark of Smith’s cinematic universe movies going forward.