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‘Mallrats’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 20, 1995

Is there such a thing as harmless bad taste? Absolutely, and Kevin Smith's "Mallrats" is it. A disjointed but infectious series of comic vignettes, toilet humor, practical jokes, sight gags, even a sort of grunge variation on Keystone Kops slapstick, this slacker white paper about a day in a shopping mall in suburban Jersey definitely pushes the edge of the gross-out envelope like nothing since John Belushi loaded up his cheeks with Jell-O in "Animal House."

Like Smith's debut, "Clerks," the movie is a piece of junk. From the looks of it, the shoestring auteur hasn't progressed much in terms of mastering the fundamentals of a director's craft. The movie doesn't have any particular rhythm, and in some instances Smith seems to have so little sense of how to present his material that whole sequences disintegrate into messy confusion.

However, it's also immensely likable and hysterically, irreverently funny. It begins with two guys—T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee)—who get dumped by their respective girlfriends—Brandi (Claire Forlani) and Rene (Shannen Doherty). Brodie is the typical Smith protagonist—slothful, unmotivated, directionless, immature. His girlfriend—who calls him "Sega Boy"—dumped him because his idea of romance is to lie around playing video games and reading comic books.

Actually, neither Brodie nor T.S. is stupid; they're just clueless. If it weren't for the fact that he is borderline psychotic, Brodie might actually be brilliant. Basically, though, Brodie is too lazy even to be alienated. T.S. is not quite so far gone. He wants to make something of himself. In fact, he wants to take Brandi to Florida to propose during the Universal Studios Tour just at the moment that the shark bursts out in the "Jaws" section. Unfortunately, Brandi's father (Michael Rooker, with a shaved head that makes him look like Daddy Warbucks) doesn't think T.S. is good enough for his precious baby. And instead of allowing her to go to Florida, he asks her to substitute for the young woman who was supposed to be the contestant on the "Dating Game" rip-off he is producing in the mall that night.

Though T.S. doesn't hide his devastation, Brodie acts as if he couldn't care less. "As my grandmother always said," Brodie tells his pal, "why buy the cow when you can get the sex for free." Still, for the sake of amour, Brodie decides to help his buddy repair the rift in his relationship.

His strategy for accomplishing this is as intricate as the plots in Shakespeare's marital comedies—and just as improbable. To assist in their scheme, Brodie enlists the aid of his friends Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith himself), a pair of stoner knights-errant who are ever-ready to leap into the breach for a just cause. In this case, their assignment is to destroy the stage on which the game show is to take place. No problem, Jay answers, we were going to do that anyway.

Along the way one of the scenes—during which Brodie elaborates on the art of the "stink palm"—is destined to achieve a kind of immortality. Though this particular brand of sophomoric, scatological humor is hardly new, you do feel as if Smith has a unique gift for capturing the idiosyncratic essence of his characters.

What Smith can't do, though, is direct. At times, his control is so tenuous that the movie seems on the verge of collapsing altogether. And eventually it does, when Smith tries to pull off a parody of a game show gone haywire for his big finale. To stage a scene of this complexity actually calls for crack timing and a high degree of technical competence. Smith has neither.

The film does have a surprising sweet spirit, however, and a lot of laughs. Ultimately, even Brodie is convinced—by none other than legendary comic book artist and "Spider-Man" creator Stan Lee—that the "one that got away" is the one you remember forever. But then again, you'll never forget that "stink palm" either.

Mallrats is rated R for antisocial behavior, language and drug references.

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