“You know, I think you ought to get him some help. He seems to be really hung up on super heroes’ sex organs.”
A pair of friends head to the mall to get over their respective break-ups and hilarity ensues. The second feature film from director Kevin Smith celebrates its 25th anniversary!
Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
The first time I saw MALLRATS was when a friend came over on a Friday night in 1996 with a VHS copy in his hands that he had just rented from the local video store. He had rented it, he said, because of what writer/director Kevin Smith had done with CLERKS. At this point, I had heard of CLERKS but hadn’t seen it yet. MALLRATS was my introduction to what would eventually be known as the View Askewniverse.
We weren’t terribly interested in the movie at the onset. My group of friends were sitting in front of the television, less than impressed with the verbosity of T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee), the two friends whose girlfriends dumped them on the same morning. And then, while walking into the mall to drown their sorrows, Brodie gets nailed in the head with a ladder. At that moment, one of my friends that had found Brodie obnoxious put down the comic book he was reading, laughed and said, “alright, now I’m in.”
By the time the movie was through, I had become a big fan of Kevin Smith.
MALLRATS doesn’t get a lot of love, and is probably the most-maligned of Smith’s Jersey-based movies. After breaking out as an indie darling with CLERKS, Smith’s sophomore effort was a much different animal – a raunchy comedy from a studio looking to capitalize on a moment in time. MALLRATS is, indisputably, a product of its time, even more so than its predecessor. The music, the clothes, the setting – it all screams the 1990s so loudly. It would be fair to assume that it wouldn’t hold up the way his other films did. But I think it still holds up pretty well 25 years after it was released.
Jason Lee is the breakout star of the film, even if Brodie started the film as an obnoxious blowhard. He stayed an obnoxious blowhard throughout the movie, but he grows on you as MALLRATS reaches its final act. His dedication to helping T.S. get over or get back together with his ex-girlfriend Brandi is only stilted by his own desire to reconcile with his ex. And the discovery of Stan Lee signing comics at his local shop. But we’ll get back to that.
Even if I hated the character at the start, this movie is absolutely terrible without Jason Lee in the cast. Jeremy London spends the whole movie looking like he wished he had passed on the project and he’s not alone. With the exception of Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob), and maybe Stan, almost everyone looks like they’re just there for a paycheck. And it really does bring down the film at times – namely when Jason Lee isn’t on the screen.
But the enthusiasm of the Lees – both Jason and Stan – lift the picture up out of mediocrity and put it alongside other 1990s comedies that serve as defining images of that generation.
And of course including Stan Lee in the film was a masterstroke, because the man behind the rise of Marvel Comics has a charm that few people can even imagine having. I spent my childhood hearing Stan Lee’s voice on cartoons, but this is the first time I remember actually seeing him in action. Again, the film would have been less than without the inclusion of Stan Lee. Putting an actor in that role to pretend to be what Stan was would have come off as hackneyed.
MALLRATS is in no way Kevin Smith’s best film. But I don’t think it’s his worst, either. Like the comic book universes we’ve all grown up reading, Smith used some ties to his previous film to create his own larger world – though you didn’t need to see CLERKS to know what was happening here. It was just an Easter egg for the ones who had. MALLRATS is, really, the lynchpin of the View Askewniverse, that place where the parts can become greater as a whole.
Even after 25 years, I can sit down and turn the movie on and I can still enjoy it for what it is. I imagine even after another 25, that’ll still be true.