If I were to say that Kevin Smith's second feature was eagerly anticpated I would be guilty of over-stating the case somewhat. Those who were lucky enough to enjoy his first film 'Clerks' on its release will remember the frisson of excitement that they felt when hearing about Mallrats. They will probably also remember the nervous feeling that accompanied it. Smith was making his major studio debut, lots of money available and the possibility of huge success or pitiful failure.
It would probably be prudent at this point for me to tell you that I am a bit of a Smith fan. That said, when I first saw Mallrats on video at a friends house three or four years ago I was only just aware of Kevin Smith and Clerks. I had no idea, for example, that Silent Bob was played by the director or that many of the characters in Clerks feature in Mallrats or that the three 'Jersey trilogy' films (Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy) were all so intricately interlinked! As a result of this I came to the film with no expectations and no preconceived opinions.
The move from indie film-maker to working for a major is a fraught path and proved to be a difficult process for Kevin Smith and his View Askew crew. Right from the outset the two camps seemed to be talking different languages. Smith memorably tells us of one of the initial encounters with the Universal bosses in the commentary. Wanting 'a smart Porky's' the studio made six million dollars available. Smith told them that he didn't need nearly that much and that he could easily make the film for a million or less. He was told that you simply cannot make a film for less than six million. when he pointed out that Clerks cost $27,000 they said 'thats not a film!'
It was this uneasy alliance that eventually set out to make a 'smart' R-rated teen-comedy. Whilst it was panned by most critics and only grossed $400,000 on 650 screens on its opening night it nonetheless suceeded in its, fairly modest, aims.
The story begins with two close friends; TS and Brodie (played by Jeremy London and Jason Lee) who both split from their girlfriends, Brandi (Brit Claire Forlani) and René (Beverley Hills 90210's Shannen Doherty) respectively, right at the beginning. Essentially the film is about how they try to win them back. The plot takes in a number of convoluted twists and turns as fate tries very hard to keep them from their goals, and as with all good love stories there is a nasty nemesis in the shape of Brandi's father - Jared Svenning who is portrayed superbly by Michael Rooker.
Upon being dumped, TS seeks solace at Brodie's house only to find that he too has been spurned. Brodie is far more upbeat about the situation and suggests that they go to the mall to ease their pain. At the mall the the two friends find out that Brandi's father, a budding local TV presenter, is planning to broadcast an edition of his cheesy dating show Truth or Date live from the Mall. TV bigwigs from the network are there and Svenning is keen to impress them.
Brodie feels that the best way for TS to get Brandi back is to go on the show and try and win her in true Blind Date style. The reason Brandi is on the show in the first place is the also the reason why they broke up - confused yet? Don't worry it all becomes much clearer as you watch the events unfold.
The doped-up duo of Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) reprise their roles from Clerks and play a much larger part in this film. They are enlisted by Brodie to help make Truth Or Date as big a flop as possible.
As you may have come to expect from a Smith script the film has many great one-liners - my favourite is Brodie proclaiming 'I love the smell of commerce in the mornings' as he and TS enter the mall. It will possibly come as a surprise to learn that there are a number of great action/comedy set-pieces, generally involving Silent Bob, possible the least likely action-hero ever!
As the transmission time nears, Brodie and TS become more obsessed with getting on the show and go to ever elaborate lengths to get past the legendary mall security guard LaFours. We also learn that Brodie's girl has hooked up with an arrogant, self-satisfied boutique owner Shannon (Ben Affleck in a wonderfully slimy and unlikable role).
I feel that the film was perhaps too-harshly dealt with at the time. Sure it bombed at the cinemas but it as Smith points out on the commentary (and in the featurette) it cetainly found its niche on video
The acting is good and the script is full of the sort of dialogue that is now Smith's trademark. Who else can pen a line like 'I have no respect for people with no shopping agenda'. Add in all the little visual gags and wonderful shop names like Rug Munchers, Burning Flesh Tanning Salon and Popular Girl Fashions and you have a pretty good film. If all that isn't enough there is a cameo from comic book legend Stan Lee.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and seems to have been taken from a pretty clean and sharp print. This is no reference piece for sure but it is more than adequate. I could see no real egradation or dirt on the print although a few scenes did look a little grainy - notably where Shannon confronts Brodie.
The blacks are pretty damn black and the fleshtones look very natural. My only disappointment was that some of the more vibrant colours (the shocking pink Truth Or Date set) looked a little muted - certainly not as vibrant as the Austin Powers films for example. Overall though, this looks a good transfer, there is no smearing and the image reamins constantly crisp throughout.
The sound is presented in 5.1 surround and to my ears sounded fine. The rears are not called into action very often but when they are they are very effective. Ira Newborn has provided a fine score and when it is given chance to breathe (the finale, and the expulsion of Brodie and TS from the mall) it sounds wonderful. Being a dialogue led film the majority of the mix is heard through the centre and front speakers and I am happy to report that the dialogue is crisp and clear. Sadly I don't have a subwoofer so I cannot comment on the effectiveness of that component of the soundtrack.
The menus are animated, slightly! When a screen is first selected the components rush in from all sides, after that though they remain static. Being a Universal release we are subject to the incomprehensible icons that afflict so many of their discs. They serve no useful purpose and appear confusing even when the key screen has been read and digested. That said it is easy enough to navigate your way around this disc - which is fortunate as there are a ton of extras to uncover.
The list of extras on the back of the box does not really convey the quality of the items to be found in the Special Features menu. First off is a twenty minute documentary titled 'View Askews look back at Mallrats'. Such was the expectation surrounding this film and so spectacularly did it fail to meet up to it, Universal have opted to open this featurette with a warning: 'The following featurette and audio commentary represent the opinions and views of the filmakers. They do not reflect the opinions of the studio or management.'
This tells you that what are going to see is the real deal and not some promotional piece singing the glories of a stinker! Featuring interviews with Smith and many of the View Askew folks (Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Scott Mosier) as well as producer Jim Jacks and quite a few others. Some real gems are revealed about the making of this film and it's a thoroughly enjoyable watch. (Like most of these extras, though, it does contain spoilers so watch the feature first.)
The commentary is without doubt the funniest I have heard. With Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Scott Mosier and View Askew historian Vincent Pereira all chipping in it is never dull and often enlightening. The whole thing has a very circumspect air (recorded, I believe some three years after the films release). All present are prepared to accept the films shortcomings (sometimes when there are none in my opinion) but none bear any grudges.
Given that between the making of the film in 1995 and the recording of the commentary, Ben Affleck became a big box office star, there is a large amount of good-natured and very funny banter aimed at him!
Next up we have an hour or so of deleted scenes. These are presented in one chunk with no way of choosing them individually, there isn't even chapter access. Don't let this put you off however. I have watched these scenes a couple of times and while they may not provide quite as many laughs as the Spinal Tap outtakes there are some very funny moments. Additionally the original vision for the film is revealed here with four alternate openings (three filmed and one scripted).
The rest of the extras are the sort of thing usually stuck on a bare bones disc thats labelled 'loaded with extras'. Of these, the best is the now infamous Universal Soundtrack Presentation! The Goops version of 'Build Me Up Buttercup' is not a patch on the Foundations one on the 'There's Something About Mary' soundtrack. It does have a great video directed by Kevin Smith starring Jay and Silent Bob, though. It's title should entice you to watch it: 'How To Make A Movie Tie-In Music Video When You Can't Get Spike Jonze.' Very cool.
Entirely incidentally the song isn't the only similarity between Mallrats and the more famous Cameron Diaz flick. Smith recounts a cut scene (sadly not featured on the DVD) about Jay and Silent Bob masturbating whilst watching girls in a changing room, flying ejaculate lands in one girls hair and well... lets just say the studio baulked at it!
The production photos are largely promo stuff but there are a few interesting shots showing the film-makers at work. The production notes are similar but not exactly the same as the ones printed in the booklet and the cast and crew bios do exactly what you would expect. Finally the trailer is a grainy full frame mess that is only worth watching for the couple of scenes that didn't make either the final cut or the deleted scenes section of this disc.
Ulitmately all I can say is that if you enjoy the teen aspect of films like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Buellers Day Off and the sharp dialogue of something like Go then you are likely to have a riot with this. Similarly if you have enjoyed other Kevin Smith films then you are probably on safe ground. Just remember, its not Clerks 2.