Pay close attention and you’ll see that Mallrats, writer/director Kevin Smith’s follow-up to his debut Clerks, has a lot in common with the 1994 cult classic. It features two young male protagonists, restless and confused and rebellious; this time, however, both of them are experiencing relationship problems. T.S. (Jeremy London) sees his plans of proposing to his longtime girlfriend Brandi (Claire Forlani) dashed when she suddenly breaks up with him. Brodie (Jason Lee), who is much more in line with Smith’s traditional View Askew brand of character, is simultaneously dumped by his longtime girlfriend Rene (Shannen Doherty). The former is accused of being self-absorbed, and the latter a lazy bum – both are guilty as charged.
Smith’s writing here is a clear step back from his debut. His crass, crude, nerd-heavy sense of humor remains largely intact, and he at least refuses to water down his particular brand of comedy to make it consumable for the masses, which I commend him for. From the ridiculous pothead back-n-forth between Jay and Silent Bob to outrageously blunt sex jokes (the best of which always seem to contain a kernel of truth) to comic book references infused with toilet-humor, Mallrats is Kevin Smith through and through. I could never argue something as purely subjective as comedy, but for my money this is amusing stuff. As amusing as it is (Ben Affleck’s performance as a complete and total asshole is gold) it is decidedly less so than Smith’s first film.
This, I’m convinced, is largely due to his lead couple. It’s a shame that the “core couple” of the film, T.S. and Brandi, are completely uninteresting, uninspired, and abysmally acted – Jeremy London and Claire Forlani are wooden and just plain boring. Jason Lee, by no means a great actor, at least has some fun (a crucial component for a comedy). The real shame, though, is that Shannen Doherty, who delivers Smith’s dialogue like she was born for the job, has woefully little screen time as Rene, sidelined for the “normal couple,” a character type Smith seems ill-equipped to handle.
Kevin Smith’s best movies have a big brain and a bigger heart buried beneath the infantile fart jokes and nerd debates. Mallrats certainly lacks the former (character arcs are nonexistent) and although there is a clear ambition for the latter, it rings hollow. By the end of the film our leads are still largely selfish and careless, except now they say the right things because the stage is set (literally). Smith’s a strong enough writer that the two still manage to be loveable (well, at least Brodie), but sit and think long enough and their charm begins to fade. Mallrats is like one of Brodie’s stinky, butt-scented chocolate covered pretzels – it tastes good, but something is definitely off.
★★½ out of 5