“Attention Rex Manning fans, to your left you will notice a shoplifter being chased by night manager, Lucas. This young man will be caught, deep fried in a vat of hot oil and served to our first hundred customers. Just another tasty treat from the gang at Empire Records.”

A day in the life of the staff of an independent record store that learns a chain may be taking over their beloved home away from home. Craziness always ensues on Rex Manning Day!

Empire Records (1995)
Directed by Allan Moyle 
Written by Carol Heikkinen

Between the music, the outfits and the plot, this movie may be the most mid-1990s movie ever made and, to me, it’s right up there with movies like REALITY BITES as one of the most defining generational movies of the decade. I never saw this in theaters. Judging by the gross box office listed on IMDb of $303,000, pretty much no one did. But when I discovered it in my local video store, it quickly became a favorite.

The movie centers around the young employees of Empire Records, an independent record store that is being optioned to be taken over by a huge chain. The store’s manager, Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) is working towards buying his brother out, but plans go awry when Lucas (Rory Cochrane), his night manager, takes the day’s sales to Atlantic City and loses everything on an ill-advised craps shoot. Lucas’ thinking outside the box sends everything into a tail spin, as the staff has to add possibly losing their jobs to the typical teenage and early-20s angst they’re all dealing with.

And on top of everything, aging musician Rex Manning (Max Caulfield) is doing an appearance at the store. You want to hear some vintage Rex Manning? Say no more, mon amour.

The DVD I own is the 2003 “Fan Edition,” which edits in 16 extra minutes to the movie. I’ve been watching this version for so long now, I honestly can’t remember what was and wasn’t in the original version at this point.

EMPIRE RECORDS features a great collection of actors in “before they were stars” roles. Liv Tyler plays the studious and ambitious Corey, who has just been accepted to Harvard and wants to have her first sexual experience with Rex Manning. She’s terrible in this movie, by the way. RenĂ©e Zellweger would become a household name in 1996 with JERRY MAGUIRE, but here she’s Corey’s best friend, Gina, who’s more sexually adventurous but afraid she’s turning into her mother. I always forget Ethan Embry was in 1990’s DUTCH with Ed O’Neill, but he’s pretty unforgettable here as stoner Mark, who just wants to be in a band.

I don’t know that there’s a real standout scene in the movie, but everything gels together so well. Of course, the lovable band of misfits manages to overcome all their issues to save the record store in an improbable turn of events that includes a shoplifting kid getting arrested, coming back to the store with a gun and then getting hired to work at the store and an impromptu open house kegger in and around the store to raise money. But logic doesn’t really matter in a movie like this, just that the story provides fun moments and doesn’t feel like a waste of time when it’s over.

This is one of those movies I could watch anywhere, at any time and if I find it on TV, it stays on.

Damn the man! Save the Empire!